Various Artists "Compact Soul" (UK Charly CD Charly 10 - 1986)
by Pete Nickols
THE REISSUE ON CD OF DEEP SOUL BEGAN WTH RELEASES LIKE THIS
The Impressions ~ It’s All Right; The Tams ~ Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me; Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson ~ Picking Wild Mountain Berries; Bettye Lavette ~ He Made A Woman Out Of Me; Jerry Butler ~ He Will Break Your Heart; Jimmy Hughes ~ Neighbor, Neighbor; O.V. Wright ~ You’re Gonna Make Me Cry; Gladys Kinight & The Pips ~ Giving Up; Bobby Bland ~ I Pity The Fool; Gene Chandler ~ You Threw A Lucky Punch; Bobby Bland ~ Cry, Cry, Cry; Doris Allen ~ A Shell Of A Woman; Gladys Knight & The Pips ~ Either Way I Lose; O.V. Wright ~ Eight Men, Four Women; Jerry Butler ~ I Stand Accused; Johnny Adams ~ Reconsider Me; Gene Chandler ~ Just Be True; The Dells ~ Stay In My Corner; Gene Allison ~ You Can Make It If You Try ; The Impressions ~ People Get Ready; Jimmy Hughes ~ Steal Away; Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson ~ Lover’s Holiday.
It was in 1979 that a joint Phillips-Sony ‘taskforce’ began to develop a commercially viable audio-storage compact disc. By 1982 the first examples were appearing but the CD did not become generally available to most would-be purchasers until the following year. Even then the public had to first buy a CD-player (not cheap back then) as well as pay a premium for CD versions of recorded music, for, at this time, there were only a few CD pressing plants in the world and Phillips were asking record companies to pay them licensing fees simply for the use of the format.
You can readily see, therefore, that small independent reissue companies were unlikely to be the first to make use of the CD, let alone to issue in that format material of strictly limited commercial appeal like 60’s and 70’s deep soul music.
Like all ‘new’ technical innovations, however, once they are seen to have wider commercial appeal and the demand is there, the technology then gets cheaper and more accessible. So it was that by 1986, UK Charly, for example, felt able to issue the CD we are reviewing here, though it is significant that it is simply called “Compact Soul”, majoring on the fact that finally soul collectors could acquire some examples of their favourite kind of music in this format.
There were some 22 tracks on offer, the 70+ minute available playing time of a CD making it at last possible to exceed the usual 12 to 14 track limit of an LP (some LPs had more tracks but this simply resulted in closer, shallower grooves and thereby significantly reduced the audio playback quality).
Of these 22 tracks, not all were what I would term ‘deep-soul’ but equally quite a few were, whilst the rest were generally ‘quality’ soul and far from being make-weights.
The Vee Jay-distributed version of Jimmy Hughes’ “Neighbour Neighbour” was a driving piece of top-drawer southern-soul; Bobby Bland’s original of “I Pity The Fool” made a welcome CD debut even if Ann Peebles’ later cover (not included) would prove arguably superior; and Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson’s bouncy and likeable “Lover’s Holiday” and “Picking Wild Mountain Berries” also both saw re-release. Chicago soul got a good look-in with the Impressions’ “It’s Alright” and “People Get Ready” plus Gene Chandler’s “You Threw A Lucky Punch” and “Just Be True”, not forgetting Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart”, while Butler’s beautiful, melodic interpretation of “I Stand Accused” can itself be classed perhaps as sweet-deep-soul. The same term also surely applies to the Dells’ slow-paced love-paean “Stay In My Corner”, as well as to Gene Allison’s “You Can Make It If You Try”.
Unquestionably ‘deep’, though, were Jimmy Hughes’ superb, gospelly “Steal Away”, O.V. Wright’s equally gospel-drenched “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” and “Eight Men, Four Women”, Bobby Bland’s “Cry, Cry Cry”, with its smooth bluesy passages so well complemented by some great assertive soul-preaching, and Doris Allen’s awesome “A Shell Of A Woman”, a defining deep-soul outing by any standards. To have deep classics like this on ‘clean’ CD format minus any vinyl surface noise or clicks or scratches was simply a huge bonus for vintage soul fans back in 1986!
A review of this fine early CD would not be complete though without adding that it also included the Tams’ hit-recording of “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me”, two good tracks from Gladys Knight & The Pips (“Either Way I Lose” and the dramatic “Giving Up”) and Johnny Adams’ lovely rolling piece of country-soul “Reconsider Me”, with its riveting falsetto passages.
I’ve deliberately left till last a mention of Betty LaVette’s “He Made A Woman Out of Me”. Although not ‘deep’ in the true sense of the term, I make no apology for defining this track as one of the greatest pieces of southern country-soul of all time. Michigan-based LaVette had a huge empathy with southern songs – and southern musicians – and, although she would later also record down at Fame, she missed out on the glory earlier-soul days of that famous studio in not recording there circa.1967 like Etta James, Laura Lee and Irma Thomas. In my view Bettye could have produced some superb soul there at that time, easily a match for any of the certainly great material which did emerge courtesy of the aforementioned formidable trio of female songthrushes.
However, Bettye’s ‘day in the southern sun’ came in 1969/70 with her sessions for Silver Fox and SSS-International down in Memphis, backed by that ‘steaming’ southern rhythm section, The Dixie Flyers, in the days shortly before Jerry Wexler ‘pinched’ them and installed them at Miami’s Critera studios to back his Atco and Cotillion artists.
“He Made A Woman Out Of Me” was a real high-point of these LaVette sessions. It is rolling, rhythmic, storyline, rural-southern soul, musically top-drawer and with strong adult lyrics about John Henry coming up the river y’all to deflower the girl the singer is portraying while she was still a young virgin – yet Bettye (in this role) looks back to this defining moment, has no regrets and actually thanks the guy for “setting her free” because “he made a woman out of me”. This recording is that rare gem where a superbly interpretive singer has wonderful lyrics at her disposal and makes full use of them in front of a top-of-their-game greasy guitar-led rhythm section. Absolutely stunning – though I wonder, with those lyrics, how it ever got any airplay back in late 1969-early 1970?
Anyway, this Charly release provides a fine early example of the reissue in CD format of meaningful soul music and made my own investment in a CD-player back in those far-off days seem worth the money after all!