Without question this CD comprises the best album from Esther Phillips' star-crossed career which lasted from the age of 14 to her tragically premature death at the age of 48 worn down by years of drug abuse, an addiction picked up on the road touring in her teens. Her singing with its distinctive pinched almost nasal tone is unimpeachably soulful and I reckon she is probably THE greatest R&B ballad singer of them all as evinced by the awesome "That's All Right With Me" on this album. This LP is probably most famous for Esther's staggering, heartfelt cover of Gil Scott Heron's searing depiction of the debilitating consequences of drug addition, "Home Is Where The Hatred Is" which apparently Esther was reluctant to record due to its obvious parallels to her own parlous situation (in fact it was the last song she recorded - turning in a peerless performance which just floors you every time).
Esther also brilliantly covers two Allen Toussaint songs; the moody, brooding "From A Whisper To A Scream" and the sprightlier funk-soul "Sweet Touch Of Love". She also stridently covers Eddie Floyd's "Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone" which in a pleasant surprise this CD doubles the length of this great track to over 6-minutes compared to the recent Blu-Spec CD Japanese reissue. In addition this CD contains a different mix of the great ballad "To Lay Down Beside You" to the recent Japanese Blu-Spec CD reissue containing additional sax (both versions are very fine in their different ways though in this case I think the sparer Japanese take just about shades it). More magnificent singing is displayed on a lush version of the Motown Marvin & Anna Gaye penned nugget, "Baby I'm For Real" which easily trumps the first version by The Originals.
There are also four bonus tracks (not on the 2014 Japanese reissue), all worthwhile including a soulful organ-flecked version of Carole King's "Brother, Brother", two excellent ballads in the jazzy "Don't Run To Him" (which has some very cool jazz guitar licks) and "A Beautiful Friendship" (which was tackled again later in Esther's tenure on Kudu Records). Finally there is the jazz-hued blues of "How Blue Can You Get?" (an excellent performance which wouldn't have been a comfortable fit to the mood of the original album).
Finally a note about the band consisting some of the finest jazz musicians New York had to offer at the time including Richard Tee, Eric Gale, Bernard Purdie, Hank Crawford, David Liebman and Airto Moreira amongst others and with brilliant arrangements by the amazing James Brown (and later Van Morrison) side-man, Pee Wee Ellis. You simply won't get a better backing band than that, period and they are predictably superb throughout.
Conclusion: A classic's classic with some of the best singing/playing you are ever going to hear - recommendation enough?