Various Artists "Soul Deep" (UK Charly CD Charly 42 - 1987)
by Pete Nickols
AN EARLY DEEP SOUL COMPILATION
Geater Davis ~ Sad Shade Of Blue; Bettye Lavette ~ Let Me Down Easy; Little Richard ~ I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me; Z.Z. Hill ~ Faithful And True; Peggy Scott ~ Every Little Bit Hurts; Earl Gaines ~ Hymn No.5; Charles Smith ~ Ashes To Ashes; Gladys Knight & The Pips ~ Either Way I Lose; Sam Baker ~ I Love You; Doris Duke ~ To The Other Woman; Ted Taylor ~ It’s Too Late; The Ad Libs ~ Giving Up; Toussaint McCall ~ Nothing Takes The Place Of You; Barbara West ~ The Love Of My Man; Clarence Carter ~ What Was I Supposed To Do; George Perkins ~ Crying In the Streets; Geater Davis ~ Long Cold Winter; Big Al Downing ~ Cornbread Row.
One of the earliest Deep Soul compilations in the then still relatively new CD format came from UK Charly with this 1987 release. It only featured 18 tracks – not many for a reissue CD - but deep soul collectors didn’t care! At last they had a concentrated batch of deep soul goodies on one CD to remove the need to keep playing some of those rare old 45s and LP tracks.
Geater Davis (vocally, a kind of primeval Bobby Bland) possessed a raw-edged bluesy voice and created his own kind of rough-tough ‘bluesoul’ before the phrase came to be much later used for a somewhat softer amalgam of these two important musical genres. “Sad Shade Of Blue” and “Long Cold Winter” are both wonderful slow-paced blues-meets-deep-soul gems which are capable of seriously depressing virtually any listener, no matter how happy they were before they put this CD on the player! Deep soul has been occasionally rather worrying described as ‘wrist-slashing’ music and these examples certainly bring that quasi-suicidal phrase very much to mind.
Betty Lavette’s “Let Me Down Easy” has been described by me previously in another review. Suffice, to say, most great deep-soul records feature singers vocally emotive enough to convince you the lyrics they are singing could really apply to them. On records like this you are actually hearing the singer using her own ‘hurt’ to make the lyrics ring true. We should feel humble to be allowed to eavesdrop on such personally-expressed anguish.
Little Richard quite simply has one of the finest and almost instantly-recognisable voices in all of ‘black’ music. Easily the greatest rock ‘n roller for my money ahead of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, this guy could sing rock, blues or soul and make it sound good on his day. OK – sometimes he was given or mistakenly chose a few ‘turkeys’ - but with the right ‘vehicle’, Richard sure could ‘deliver’. Soulwise, he never delivered better than on his 2-part, soul-preaching deepie “I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me”.
Z.Z Hill’s lovely lay-back Quinvy-recorded version of the Dan Penn/ Marlin & Jeanie Greene song “Faithful And True” was a fine example of country-soul from yet another great singer who just as successfully handled blues and R&B on other recordings.
It’s not all that often that a ‘cover’ version actually improves on a fine original but the formidable Peggy Scott’s ultra-powerful reading of “Every Little Bit Hurts” for me simply adds extra soul charisma to Brenda Holloway’s better-known interpretation.
To show that this about-turn is not unique, I also rate Barbara West’s terrific version here of “The Love Of My Man” as superior to Theola Kilgore’s certainly very fine original from some years earlier.
While, discussing ‘covers’ versus originals, I would award a ‘draw’ between Earl Gaines’ tremendous version of “Hymn No.5” (featured here) and The Mighty Hannibal’s superb self-penned original, albeit maybe Hannibal just edges it because his was a genuine Viet Nam war-song whereas by the time of Gaines’ piece he was writing to his girl not from the war-trenches but simply from a ‘cold room’.
Charles Smith was a little-known southern soul singer with genuinely immense interpretive quality. He only made a handful of records but they were nearly all to a very high standard. “Ashes To Ashes” (aka “My Great Loss”) was certainly one of these.
Sam Baker, like Smith, was another southern-soul performer whose very considerable vocal ability only came to be fully recognised by those ready to seek out his small-selling, rare soul 45s. “I Love You” is an intense slow-paced paen to a lost love so good it could simply be used as a definition of deep southern soul.
Doris Duke cut most of her best-known material for the mercurial ‘Swamp Dogg’ and “To The Other Woman” springs its surprise in its sub-title (“I’m The Other Woman”), Doris actually playing the role here of the mistress of her ‘guy’ and not his wife. This is good storyline soul, although it’s not ultra-deep.
Ted Taylor had a really long label-hopping musical career and here that’s perhaps demonstrated by his turning an old Chuck Willis R&B song into a very pleasant lilting piece of country-soul, albeit with the impressive addition of his trademark gospelly, high-tenor, dramatic passages.
Toussaint McCall’s one great claim to fame was his big hit version of the very slow-paced and incredibly sparse “Nothing Takes The Place Of You”. A quietly smouldering organ, a softly plunked piano and some gentle drum-beats behind McCall’s direct, almost spoken, storyline vocal, here creates a loneliness and sadness which clearly identifies this beautifully uncluttered recording as a deep winner, despite its total lack of vocal drama.
I love Clive Richardson’s sleeve-note on George Perkins’ “Crying In the Streets” when he points out the track was apparently cut in a garage using a biscuit-tin for drums in support of Perkins’ wailing, tearful vocal. As evidence of just how little deep-soul was available on CD when this example was released, Clive adds: “Be the first on your block to hear biscuit-tin bashing in CD hi-fi!” In fairness though, there is a fine expressive vocal from Perkins on offer here.
Without wishing to end on an overly critical note, I consider 4 of the 18 tracks on offer here not to be deep-soul. Whilst they are all interesting soul performances, they could have been omitted in favour something more ‘on topic’. I refer to “Either Way I Lose” by Gladys Knight, “Giving Up” by the Ad Libs, “What Was I Supposed to Do” by Clarence Carter and “Cornbread Row” by Big Al Downing.
However, even 14 deep winners in CD clarity was a great ‘prize’ for collectors back in 1987.