Throughout her time at Motown, Holloway worked with a number of the label’s most celebrated producers, including Marc Gordon and Hal Davis, Frank Wilson, Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, Ivy Jo Hunter and William Stevenson, Norman Whitfield, William Weatherspoon, and even two-thirds of the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate: Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. All are represented here. As each producer had his own individual style within the trademark Hitsville sound, Brenda would adapt her voice as necessary. This variety might have hampered her chances at becoming one of the label’s biggest sellers, but makes for a compelling and enjoyable listen from a nonpareil vocalist of enormous versatility and range. As one of the songs here goes, “You Got a Little of Everything.”
The Marc Gordon and Hal Davis Productions
Almost half of Spellbound‘s tracks were produced by the West Coast-based team of Marc Gordon and Hal Davis. If Martha and the Vandellas could have a “Heat Wave,” why couldn’t Brenda have a similarly-styled “Deep Freeze” penned by her frequent collaborator and producer, Frank Wilson? But most of Brenda’s tracks written by Wilson were far more original. She channels supper club sophistication on “Strange Things,” with its evocative woodwind and string accompaniment, and commands an imploring groove on “Why Don’t You Tell the Truth.”
The uptown soul vein is also tapped for William Stevenson and Johnny Allen’s emotive “Just Loving You,” on which Brenda turns in one of her most powerful vocals. Her swooning vocal on “There’s Something on Your Mind” is in sharp contrast with the slow-burning, brassy “Today I Sing the Blues” (an outside-of-Motown copyright previously recorded by artists including the young Aretha Franklin as her debut single for Columbia Records) and utterly romantic “Baby, It Is You.” (The latter offers churchy organ accompaniment and occasionally busy background vocals, to the detriment of Brenda’s strong lead.)
Billy Page (of “The In Crowd” fame) wrote two of the strongest tracks produced by Gordon and Davis: the irresistible Motor City swinger “I Don’t Want Anybody Perfect” and the sweetly percolating “Lucky My Boy.” Page also wrote this collection’s title track, the shimmering “I’m Spellbound,” as recorded on Brenda by an unknown producer. Budding tunesmith Jimmy Webb wrote 17 songs while on staff at Jobete Music; among them was the reflective “This Time Last Summer,” a beautiful ballad-with-a-beat recorded at Motown by Danny Day, Blinky, and Brenda. Her recording is soft and subtle, and one of the most delicious treats on Spellbound. “You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Crazy” is credited here as “You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” by Lincoln Mayorga and Sidney Russell; the dramatic tune is actually by Mayorga and Bobby Russell, as copyrighted in November 1964 and recorded at RCA by Ketty Lester.
The solo Hal Davis produced the absolutely insistent “Can’t Hold This Feeling Back,” written by Motown recording artists The Lewis Sisters and a true head-scratcher as to why it was shelved. Kay and Helen Lewis were also behind the storming “I’m Giving Up,” in which the confident Brenda makes it apparent that she’s anything but a quitter in leaving a doomed relationship, and the urgent and amorous “You Got a Little Bit of Everything.”
The Frank Wilson Productions
Hal Davis and Frank Wilson produced the 1966 recording of Wilson’s driving “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” later recorded by the Jean Terrell-led iteration of The Supremes, while Wilson himself helmed a number of shelved tracks by Brenda. One of the most atypical tracks from the Wilson sessions is the attractive bossa ballad “Girl on the Run.” A languid saxophone wafts through the breezy track as Brenda is at her most coyly breathy.
She takes on a whole new, brighter sound in the ebullient and soulful “I Feel Your Love Growing on Me,” from the team of William Weatherspoon, James Dean, and Vernon Bullock; Weatherspoon also channeled that boisterous spirit on the upbeat “Without Love You Lose a Good Feelin’.” The quintessential mid-tempo Motown of “You Are My Chosen One” and “Whenever You Need Me” are among the other Wilson-produced highlights, as well as Ron and Aurora Miller’s gorgeous “Land of Make Believe.” Recorded as a demo for The Supremes (whose version remained shelved for two decades), Brenda’s sparkling version is one of the most purely joyful discoveries here.
The Holland-Dozier, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, Harvey Fuqua Productions
Other top-tier Motown producers took their turn with Holloway. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier were behind the ballad “Don’t Compare Me with Her,” which again put Brenda in a bluesy, smoldering setting. (Produced by Brian and Lamont, it was written by Lamont with Eddie Holland and Janie Bradford.) From the “Money (That’s What I Want)” singer Barrett Strong and his frequent collaborator, producer Norman Whitfield, came the pretty ballad “I’m the Exception to the Rule,” also recorded at Motown by The Supremes, The Velvelettes, and The Temptations! Harvey Fuqua delivered the funky fire of “Have a Little Talk with Myself,” very much in a Gladys Knight-esque vein, and the ravishing, almost Bacharach-esque ballad “What Good Am I Without You” – not the song of the same title as recorded by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston at Motown.
Spellbound: Rare and Unreleased Motown Gems is a dazzling collection re-asserting Brenda Holloway’s place as one of true queens of Hitsville, USA. It’s a fine complement to previous archival releases such as 2005’s long-out-of-print Motown Anthology and Ace’s The Early Years (2009) and The Artistry of Brenda Holloway (2013). The fine liner notes are provided by Sharon Davis and compilation curator Paul Nixon, who has co-produced the collection with evident love and affection for its subject. Nick Robbins has splendidly remastered all 34 tracks from the original Motown tapes. The only disappointment in this truly exemplary package is the lack of user-friendly annotations for every track; one has to play connect-the-dots to trace the credited songwriters and producers, while recording dates (to the extent that they are known) are absent, as is discographical annotation as to the origins of each song (whether on a digital edition or wholly unreleased). Make no mistake, though – this is one long-overdue set of Motown rarities that lives up to its title. It’s simply spellbinding!
CD 1: The Star
- Deep Freeze
- There’s Something on Your Mind
- Today I Sing the Blues
- Strange Things
- Don’t Compare Me with Her
- Why Don’t You Tell the Truth
- Baby It Is You
- I Don’t Want Anybody Perfect
- Just Loving You
- Lucky My Boy
- The Star
- This Time Last Summer
- You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
- Don’t Stay Away
- I’m the Exception to the Rule
- I Still Get Butterflies
- Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
CD 2: You Are My Chosen One
- Can’t Hold the Feeling Back
- Girl on the Run
- Have a Little Talk with Myself
- I Feel Your Love Growin’ on Me
- I’m Giving Up
- I’m Spellbound
- The Lonely Heart and Lonely Eyes of Lonely Me
- What Good Am I Without You
- It’s Going All the Way to True, True Love
- Whenever You Need Me
- You Got a Little of Everything
- You Are My Chosen One
- My Precious Dreams
- Without Love, You Lose a Good Feelin’
- What Have I Done to Myself
- The Land of Make Believe
All tracks previously unreleased on CD.