The Apollas (Leola Jiles, Ella Jamerson, and Billie Barnum) have been revered by Northern Soul enthusiasts for over thirty-five years for their gutsy, uptemo recordings from the short-lived Warnes Bros subsidiary Loma Records. Finally, in 2012, they are given a full-length CD release that collects all of their recordings for the company in addition to their early recordings as the Lovejoys for Leiber and Stoller's Tiger label.
First off, Alec Palao's liner-notes are amazing - some of the best I've ever seen. They are chock full with backstage color photos of the group all throughout their career and different lineups. The notes also include thorough testimonies from Leola Jiles, Ella Jamerson, and Billie Barnum. It is almost worth buying the CD alone for the booklet, which is a very rare thing for me to say.
Secondly, the sound quality is great as well. With the exception of their Tiger sides, and `Just Can't Get Enough of You' b/w `Nobody's Baby (Am I)', every single track is presented here in clean STEREO. Even previously unissued cuts from the Warner Bros vaults are presented here in STEREO.
The Northern Soul fans purchasing this CD may not be very interested in the Bluesy-rockers the trio recorded for Tiger Records as the Lovejoys, but they will no doubt enjoy the rest.
The Apollas were extremely talented, and their voices were amazing...Their version of Tina Britt's "You're Absolutely Right" is the definitive version of this early Ashford and Simpson composition, and a rightful Northern Soul classic. `Lock Me In Your Heart,' `Just Can't Get Enough of You,' and the energetic gospel-pop of `Mr. Creator' are all strong tracks as well...Unfortunately, Warner Bros' Loma Records was the company's attempt to break into the Soul and Black music market...And it wasn't a very successful venture. The heavy gospel-leanings of many of the Apollas' recordings made their singles less commercial than the more `poppy' performances of Motown Record acts. Despite fantastic arrangements via H.B. Barnum and Gene Page, the production for their songs often sounds very `Vegas-y', particularly on cuts like `Jive-Cat,' `Pretty Red Balloons,' and their cover of Felice Taylor's `I'm Under the Influence of Love.' This sound certainly didn't make the best accompaniment for songs that were supposed to cater to the Soul audience. Incidentally, the Apollas never charted on the R&B charts (or Pop charts) and this may have been because Warner Bros didn't quite know what they were doing at Loma. ((Other Loma acts included the hard-edged Rhythm & Blues/Rock & Roll of Ike and Tina Turner, and the even more gospel-influenced soul of Lorraine Ellison - neither of which were acts who were likely to experience the type of Pop-cross over success Motown Acts had during the mid sixties.)) In fact, it takes until the Apollas' final single, the Aretha Franklin-ish "Seven Days," before they combine their soulful vocals with a song just as soulful.
Warner Bros cut solo sides for Leola Jiles with the Blossoms on backup, the best of these is the previously unreleased "I've Got So Used To Loving You." The giant orchestration is on the same grand-scale as any Bond-theme and Jiles' vocals are on par with Shirley Bassey...The Leola Jiles recordings are devoid of the gospel influence used in most of the Apollas tunes, and they are recorded in more of an easy listening-pop vein ("Keep It Coming" and "Why Was I Born"), almost as if Warner Bros was keen on marketing Leola as a black Barbara Streisand.
If you are a fan of the Apollas recordings, then get this CD. The booklet is fantastic, the sound quality is superb, and the Apollas were great singers. The only problem is that the majority of the Loma and Warner Bros songs are mediocre ("My Soul Concerto", "You'll Always Have Me") and sometimes even whiney ("All Sold Out," "Jive Cat," "Nobody's Baby (Am I)"). But the good tracks outweigh the bad, and "Mr. Creator" and "You're Absolutely Right" both should have been big hits...and are two Northern Soul classics.
TRACK PICKS: "You're Absolutely Right," "Who Would Want Me Now," "I've Got So Used To Loving You," "Mr. Creator," "Just Can't Get Enough of You."