Welcome back to our Second Disc Holiday Gift Guide, in which we review some titles we might have missed over the past few weeks! The titles we’re spotlighting in this occasional series just might be candidates on your own holiday shopping list!
The annals of popular music are littered with lost souls, which isn’t surprising for a business that can turn the street of dreams into the boulevard of broken dreams. But thanks to two recent releases from Brunswick Records, we can appreciate 30 slices of prime Lost Soul. On Volume 1 (BRC 33020-2) and Volume 2 (BRC 33021-2), executive producer Paul Tarnopol and annotator Bill Dahl offer up a journey through an alternate sixties where Billy Butler was as big as his brother Jerry, Sidney Joe Qualls had the career of his sonic counterpart Al Green, and Major Lance’s “Tighten Up” was as beloved as Archie Bell and the Drells’ different tune of the same name. Though many of the names on these two discs are unknown to all but the most diehard soul connoisseurs, some major hitmakers are peppered throughout, including Isaac Hayes (on Volume 2) and Little Richard (on both discs)
Lost Soul makes a potent case for the vibrancy of both the Chicago soul scene circa the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, and for the venerable Brunswick label and its subsidiary, Dakar, under the direction of Carl Davis, formerly of OKeh Records. The fifteen tracks on each disc range from the wholly original to the wholly derivative, but the tracks are rarely uninteresting.
Ace Records has already anthologized Sugar Pie DeSanto’s Chess recordings (1961-1966) but on Lost Soul Volume 1 we’re treated to “Do the Whoopie” from her later Brunswick period, in which the sassy powerhouse funkifies Joe Simon’s Vee-Jay original. Yet another artist with prominent releases on the Ace label, Van McCoy, contributed the pleading “Hold On,” as performed here by Marvin Smith. It’s just one in a long line of remarkably unknown McCoy compositions; it’s a cruel irony that this man of such deep soul is best-known only for “The Hustle.”
Other tracks on Volume 1 reference a number of styles. The Brunswick/Dakar roster was clearly a diverse one, though the lack of a signature sound might have contributed to the label’s remaining in the shadows of Motown and the other great soul providers. (Many of the artists featured went on to prominence at labels like Philadelphia International or the Holland-Dozier-Holland family.) Johnny Williams’ “Your Love Controls My World” is an infectious stomper in the tradition of the songs coming from the Motor City, as is The Artistics’ “You Left Me” with its big production of sweeping strings and luscious harmonies. In contrast, The Admirations’ “Lonely Street” (not the Doc Pomus song of the same name) has the Latin-esque beat and bleating brass of New York’s uptown soul. This isn’t a surprise, as the track was produced by Morty Craft of the Melba and Warwick labels. His deft touch makes for one of Lost Soul’s highlights.
B.W. and the Next Edition’s “Stay with Me Baby” is one of the later tracks on the set, dating from 1973, but it has the sonic signature of the 1960s in its grooves. Otis Leavill, inspired by Curtis Mayfield, offers one track on each set, and on Volume 1, he’s serving up sweet harmonies and an insinuating beat on “You Brought Out the Good in Me.” After his strings of OKeh smashes (such as “The Monkey Time” and “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um”), Major Lance reunited with Carl Davis for the 1968 “Do the Tighten Up.” It’s not as hook-laden as the Archie Bell song, but its wailing saxophone leaves an impression. Another well, major name here is Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard. On “Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes,” Richard is screaming like a much younger man, but the sound is current circa 1967, with funky electric guitar joining his pounding piano up front. He was back in secular music in a big way!
Another torrid number is Floyd Smith’s “Getting Nowhere Fast.” The tempo may be slow, but he’s getting into soul heaven with this scorcher. One of the collection’s biggest curiosities is “Where the Lilies Grow,” as sung by Sidney Joe Qualls. His vocal resemblance to Al Green is uncanny. Born, like Green, in Jacknash, Arkansas, Qualls is a dead ringer for the “Let’s Stay Together” soul man.
Hit the jump as we explore Volume 2!
On Volume 2, Stax’s William Bell produced “It’s Gonna Be Good,” an offbeat, African-flavored, greasy instrumental with shouted vocal interjections that kicks off the set in singular style. (It’s not quite as singular, however, as the cacophonic oddity of The Emperors’ “Karate Boogaloo,” also on this volume!) Fans of Billy Butler (who appears on both volumes) have long wondered whether the singer would have had a more successful career had he not been in the shadow of his “Ice Man” brother Jerry. Though an answer can’t definitively be reached, the tracks here reveal a talented writer and performer, with a tone that compares favorably to his sibling. Good as “Come Over to My Side” (Volume 1) and “Burning Touch of Love” (Volume 2) may be, though, they can’t compare to the stronger material from the likes of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Randy Newman, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and the others who escalated his brother’s career. That said, you’ll savor his contributions to the Brunswick oeuvre. Like Billy Butler, another soul hero who deserved a larger following was Walter Jackson. His “Easy Evil” (an Alan O’Day song also covered by Dusty Springfield, among others) kicks off with a riff reminiscent of Thom Bell’s reworking for The Stylistics of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” before Jackson’s captivating vocals take over. (Jackson and Butler were two more OKeh artists who followed Carl Davis to Brunswick, and both of their OKeh recordings are well worth seeking out, as compiled by the U.K. Ace label.)
Eugene Record’s “Baby It’s Time” (performed by “Marshall and the Chi-Lites” is another fascinating curio. The future “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh, Girl” hitmakers don’t quite have the group’s smooth sound down yet but the song is undeniably catchy. Chicago again tipped its hat to Detroit with Johnny Williams’ cover of The Contours’ “Just a Little Misunderstanding,” and the terrific “This Love of Mine” finds Major Lance in powerfully aching mode, with a slight Norman Whitfield-era Temptations feel in the backing vocals.
Carl Davis clearly wasn’t afraid to take risks with his performers and their arrangements; Wales Wallace’s “Talk a Little Louder” has a strong melody, adorned by an almost Floyd Cramer-esque piano part that should have helped it stand out on the airwaves. Eddie McLoyd’s shimmering “Once You Fall in Love,” produced by Billy Nichol, is an example of slick, smooth soul. It’s marked by sweet, falsetto vocals, though it sounds original, and not much debt is owed to the Philadelphia sound. The most historically important track on Volume 2 might be the young Isaac Hayes’ “Sweet Temptation,” recorded in 1962 for Memphis’ Youngstown Records but released nationwide by Brunswick in 1964. Even in embryonic form, the Stax legend’s songcraft shines through.
The booklets to both volumes are colorful and well-designed; Bill Dahl’s notes are informative and entertaining, though discographical information as to each track is unfortunately absent. Ivan Joseph Goldberg has remastered all of the tracks on both releases from varying sources. With any luck, future volumes of Lost Soul, or perhaps even a comprehensive Brunswick singles compilation, will follow. The label’s rich roster (having included, at one time or another, Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin, Louis Armstrong, Gene Chandler, Erma Franklin, and so many others, in addition to the artists already mentioned) is ripe for mining for the collectors’ reissue market. For now, however, these two volumes of Lost Soul more than satisfy. Together, they make for one “sweet temptation” that shouldn’t be ignored.