Just how much excellent, ultra-obscure sixties soul music is still waiting (five decades later!) to be discovered? I have no idea, but I think it's safe to say that the Kent division of Ace Records in London will eventually find it. Not only that, they will thoroughly research everything about it and include the information in in their 20-page accompanying booklet chock-full of photos and colorful realia. Even more impressive will be the sound mastering from the original vault-stored master tapes. (I doubt any of the records on this CD ever sounded significantly better when they were first played on mint-condition vinyl.) This is a company that cares!
Of the 20+ artists featured here, I had only heard of four: Hank Ballard (of course), The Bobbettes (of "Mr. Lee" fame), Marva Whitney (the recently deceased James Brown protégée), and Earl Gaines (known to me from Nashville soul collections). Even though these recordings are all of the same genre and were issued within a particular time frame by a single company, there is almost no sound-alike monotony. These records were genuine expressions of soul artistry and not just product being churned out by some hit-making factory. My number one favorite here is "Too Much for Me to Bear" by Barbara Burton & the Messengers. This recording is so obscure that, although it was assigned a label number, it is unknown if it was ever issued. It straddles the line between deep soul and blues, much like my favorite records by Little Milton did. In his comprehensive booklet notes, Bob Abrahamian calls it "searing" and "intense." It is immediately followed by Bobby Wade's "Blind Over You," a "perfect sweet soul 45" that became a hit only in the greater Cleveland area. Special mention should be given to Toni Williams' recording of "Precious Minutes," penned by the same man (Robert Riley) who wrote the aforementioned "Too Much for Me to Bear." It comes from a place where Deep Southern soul meets sophisticated late-sixties soul; but as Abrahamian points out with regret: "Unfortunately, the single got little play or distribution." That was the general situation with practically all the records in this compilation. Everything on this CD is at minimum quite good (if you appreciate the genre), ranging upwards to outstanding. It's a veritable feast for connoisseurs of SHOULD-HAVE-BEEN soul hits.