Sunday, January 01, 2012

After Hours: High quality northern soul


Nice to have received for christmas a wonderful compilation of soul music.*  It's After Hours, the Collection: Northern Soul Masters.  It gathers in a single volume three individual releases, subtitled From the vaults of Atlantic, Atco, Loma, Reprise, and Warner Bros records 1965 - 1974.

Wikipedia tells me "northern soul" is a British term for music that is fast-paced, mid-60s, Motownesque (but not Motown) - and obscure.

All that sounds rather specific and restrictive, but it applies fairly well to this collection.  The pace varies, it's not exclusively Motown-sound, most of it's actually from the 60s, but most notably the music here is good quality and obscure.  All very pleasant on the ear, and there's nothing here that's worn deep ruts in the brain.

Which is not to say the singers and musicians are all unknowns.  Although I've heard of less than a third of the artists before, there are some famous names.  Aretha Franklin is not represented, perhaps because she was too successful in that period (all her Atlantic singles hit top 50 Soul).  But the scattering of Names includes Bobby Womack, Mary Wells, early Sister Sledge, and the distinctive Esther Phillips.  Good to hear, too, is a 1969 Ella Fitzgerald recording of the Temptations' Get Ready.

Northern soul was successful enough as a movement in England for a number of 1960s recordings to hit the British charts in the early 70s.  The only song on this compilation I've heard before was Tami Lynn's I'm Gonna Run Away From You, which was recorded earlier, but not released until 1971, when the chorus was clearly updated from the original.  That original, since released elsewhere, is the only one here that I've heard before, and this updated chorus is the only snippet of music on this compilation that I can recall hearing at the time of release.  That's testament to the pleasing obscurity of all this music.

As to the quality test: try lying on the beach on a warm day, after a solid workout in the waves,  watching the kids play in the water and listening to this.  Heaven.

*This CD set languished on the shelves in Sydney for a few months, then sold out everywhere after a very favourable review in the Sydney Morning Herald.  I'm impressed that my wife managed to find a copy when I couldn't.

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