Collecting the best of Jimmy James & the Vagabonds' first two studio albums for Pye, plus a handful of singles cut for the label (some initially appeared on the Piccadilly subsidiary), Vagabond King: The Sixties Sides is the only Jimmy James album the non-collector will ever need. Spanning just three years, from 1966 to 1968, Vagabond King covers all of James' bases, from the his earliest Motown-informed "Hi Diddley Dee Dum Dum (It's a Good Feeling)" label debut, to the mid-period grace of "No Good to Cry," his fabulous, horn-drenched reinvention of the Beatles' long-suffering "Good Day Sunshine," and onto "Better by Far," whose 1970 issue marked the end of James' '60s soul sound. From there, it's just an easy step back to fill in the holes across 24 more tracks which pull in further favorites "Come to Me Softly" and "I Wanna Be (Your Everything)." With the tracks shuffled with no regard for chronology, it's easy to ignore the change in raw energy that occurred between the band's 1966 debut and their 1968-era ending dénouement. But that's OK because it's James' voice that always cuts through the rough, giving a hybridized and often unique British/Jamaican/American soul treatment to a collection of heavy-hitting R&B covers. And, although connoisseurs argue that James and his Vagabonds sounded best in front of a raw club audience, this slick set still proves that, for a time and without a string of hit singles, James was on top of the world, doing exactly what he wanted in a country that did nothing but embrace him. It just doesn't get much better than that, and Vagabond King is an accurate sonic reflection of that.
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