Various Artists “Nobody Wins – Stax Southern Soul 1968-1975” (Kent CDKEND 370)
By Pete Nickols
Johnny Daye ~ Stay Baby Stay; Charmells ~ I’ve Done It Again ~ Charlene & The Soul Serenaders ~ Love Changes; Soul Children ~ Move Over; Chuck Broks ~ Hold On This Time; Jimmy Lewis ~ Where Was He ~ Sir Mack Rice ~ Nobody Wins ‘Til The Game Is Over; Freddie Waters ~ Groovin’ On MY Baby’s Love; Edde Floyd ~ Stealing Love; Inez Foxx ~ Crossing Ove The bridge; Betty Crutcher ~ Make A Joyful Noise; William Bell ~ Lovin’ On Borrowed Time; Willie Singleton ~ Two Fools; Ollie & The Nightingales ~ You’re Leaving Me; Sylvia & The Blue Jays ~ The Fault is Not In Me; Mable John ~ Shouldn’t I Love Him; Johnnie Taylor ~ Will You Love Me Forever; Calvin Scott ~ I’ve Never Found A Girl To Love Me Like You Do; Jimmy Hughes ~ Let ‘Em Down Baby; Shack ~ A Love Affair That Bears No Pain; Little Milton ~ Woman Across The River.
With all the (largely justifiable) excitement about UK Kent’s on-going programme of Fame-related releases, it’s interesting that the same company have also chosen to dig back into the Stax catalogue. This set concentrates on the ‘second period’ of Stax releases from ’68 through to the company’s bankruptcy and demise in ’75 and some of these were recorded in southern locations outside of McLemore Avenue.
The back sleeve sports a further heading boldly proclaiming “The Deepest Southern soul from the acclaimed Stax label of Memphis”. The only trouble is, the deepest soul produced by Stax was chiefly recorded before the period being featured here and, from this set, I would name only Johnny Daye’s and Shack’s tracks as competing with the deepest material Stax ever cut.
That’s not to say that lovers of melodic and mid-tempo classic-era soul will not enjoy this release. There’s enough of that on offer for them to do so.
First up though there’s that Johnny Daye track. I think George Soule is probably the best blue-eyed soul-singer I’ve ever heard but Daye’s “Stay Baby Stay”, which opens this set, is a superb example of this sub-genre.
The Charmells’ and Charlene’s offerings are both nice examples of ‘wrap you up in a cocoon’ smooth group-soul; while The Soul Children’s offering is OK but the inclusion instead of their “Poem On The Schoolhouse Door” from 1973 (well within the period covered here) would have knocked it into a ‘deep-soul’ cocked hat.
The previously unissued Chuck Brooks track is most welcome and is a very listenable and well-sung quasi-Otis Clay, Hi-like mid-pacer. Was it perhaps cut at Willie Mtchell’s studio? Brooks had previously recorded at American Studios before his Volt outing “Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” and the song featured here had already appeared on Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” album before being covered again by Fontella Bass in 1972 on Paula 360.
Also mid-paced is the cleverly-worded and catchy Jimmy Lewis offering, while I also like the almost driving-paced, guitar-driven piece by that good singer-songwriter Sir Mack Rice. All good stuff but still not deep.
The Freddy Waters track is one of the later ones on offer here and is much too repetitious for me, while that fine singer, Eddie Floyd’s offering is technically a cheating song but comes across as uninhibited mid-paced fun – it’s OK of its type but not outstanding and stems from Eddie’s final album for Stax (“Soul Street” on #0232).
Inez Foxx’s offering from her ’73 Volt 4096 single is an appealing gospel-soul item, albeit again it’s a mid-pacer.
Bettye Crutcher certainly wrote some fine soul-songs in her time and this previously-unissued one has a typical deep-soul storyline lyric but the effect is somewhat spoiled by the over-use of the “Make A Joyful Noise” title-phrase. This previously unissued track is a taster for a CD apparently to come from Kent soon, featuring Bettye’s 1974 10-track album “Long As You Love Me” (Enterprise 7505) plus several unissued-at-the-time extra cuts.
The always-reliable William Bell (a wonderful and vastly underrated singer) comes through with a tasteful soul-ballad, one apparently worked on since 1969 but not issued until 1973. “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” from 1968 would have been a deeper inclusion though.
The Willie Singleton Truth side is melodic soft-soul, with admittedly a more emotive passage towards the track-end, but I feel it’s likely to appeal more to modern-soul fans than purely classic-era ones.
Ollie & The Nightingales didn’t cut many poor recordings and this certainly isn’t one of them. It’s fine soul – but even though the lyric is about a girl leaving a guy and getting him uptight about it, the bouncy rhythm of the piece once again stops it from coming across as really ‘deep’. (You can read and hear lead singer Ollie Nightingale here).
Sylvia & The Blue Jays’ unissued side has the right pace and lyric to be deep but, to be blunt, the ‘unknown’ Sylvia’s screechy, little-girly voice is pretty ‘naff’ and wanders off-note far too readily. Frankly, one can see why the track originally stayed on the cutting-room floor. I’m amazed that Kent in their sleeve-notes feel able to describe this track as “glorious gospel-drenched soul”.
At least Mable John was a quality singer and “Shouldn’t I Love Him” is an emotively-delivered piece from the ‘B’ side of her final Stax single but I prefer some of her earlier Stax work, so well chronicled on her “Stay Out Of The Kitchen” set on Ace’s UK Stax release from 1992.
Johnnie Taylor, although raised on gospel, was pointed in a bluesy direction by Stax rather than towards anything approaching gutbucket deep-soul. Certainly his offering here is very much ‘standard fare’ – OK without being outstanding. And I would sum up Calvin Scott’s early-70’s offering with exactly the same phrase.
At least Jimmy Hughes has the ‘deep’ approach on his Volt side “Let ‘Em Down Baby” (and really ‘gets down’ in the middle-section of the song) but if you want to enjoy Hughes at his emotive best, you might as well skip his Volt stuff altogether and just stick to his earlier Fame-cut material.
The Shack track here is probably the best of all, along with that by Johnny Daye. This indeed is fine deep-soul. The tempo, the storyline lyric and Shack’s emotive interpretation of it leave you in no doubt that this is the genuine article. Superb.
Little Milton was a fine bluesman and along with singers like Bobby Bland virtually invented what came to be known as ‘bluesoul’. I love Milton’s track here – his vocal interpretation is top-class but, for me, it’s just too bluesy to be deep-soul. Whether you agree or not is unimportant – just enjoy this fine track for what it is – it’s well worth your attention without any need to categoriise it.
So, yes, there is indeed some good later-Stax soul music to be enjoyed here – but don’t be misled by that exaggerated ‘deepest-soul’ blurb on the back-sleeve.