Florence Ballard

The Supreme Florence Ballard

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Florence Ballard is a figure who continues to haunt the history of the Supremes -- the founder and the lost child all at once; it's impossible not to feel a terrible sadness for the fate she endured. 14 of the 18 songs on this collection were recorded in 1968, as Ballard took the first steps to a solo career that never quite happened. Discovered long after her death in 1976 (at age 32), they were bootlegged heavily,and only allowed to trickle out furtively -- the very fact that this CD is a release of the Spectrum label -- a European catalog item -- shows how obscure the material is; if, say, ABKCO Records uncovered 13 completed solo songs by Brian Jones, you can bet they wouldn't be snuck out into the mid-priced European marketplace. They aren't exactly a revelation, though there's a lot of good work here. At last granted a place in the spotlight, Ballard's gritty, tough, yet still very alluring voice was seeking the right vehicle, on songs like "The Impossible Dream," "Yesterday," and "It's Not Unusual," and even crossing into the Supremes territory on the exciting and sensuous "It Doesn't Matter How I Say It" (which came out as a single at the time). Listening to "Stay in Love" or "Walk On By," one realizes a strange dichotomy -- Ballard's voice isn't overtly "pretty" in the manner of Diana Ross, but she gets into a groove and she sings pretty; on "Goin' Out of My Head" and "You Bring Out the Sweetness in Me," a different split is evident, as she sings with a mix of raw power and terrible vulnerability. The arrangements are (mostly) sympathetic to her abilities, and at least two-thirds of what is here was definitely releasable by any reasonable standard -- that it was, instead, buried is yet another offense committed against this tragic figure. The 1968-vintage sides have been augmented by four songs featuring Ballard from the Supremes catalog, "Buttered Popcorn" from Meet The Supremes, "Ain't That Good News," the previously unissued "Hey Baby" (from the same 1961 sessions that yielded "Buttered Popcorn"), and the previously unissued "Heavenly Father." The annotation is thorough, and the sound is very good, and why this material isn't in a U.S. catalog, and hasn't been written about more extensively -- if only for a change of pace from the last (or inevitable next) Supremes hits compilation issued here -- is anyone's guess.

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