This is Ace's second collection of records penned by the phenomenal Dan Penn (in addition to his own "The Fame Recordings" from last year), who is among the greatest ever in the domain of Deep Southern soul. Ace's earlier excellent CD collection (from 2011) was "Sweet Inspiration: The Songs of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham." This one features Penn's collaborations with other writers, along with a couple of solo efforts. As always with these songwriter compilations by Ace, the sound mastering is nonpareil and the accompanying booklet (24 pages) is colorfully illustrated with photos of artists, records, record jackets and the like. The compilers of this collection, Bob Dunham and Tony Rounce, also wrote the very thorough notes which offer incisive background information on each of the 24 recordings and artists - rather amazing all they were able to come up with, given the relative rarity of so many of these records.
The rarity is a huge draw in and of itself for appreciators and collectors of this music. Beyond the title closing record by blues great Albert King from his classic 1971 Stax LP "Lovejoy," I only had a few odd ones here. It's unlikely that anyone other than hardcore collectors would be in prior possession of a significant number of these recordings.
In fact, only three records here ever made it onto a Billboard chart: Tommy Roe's "Come On" (1964) [#36 pop - it was the semi-soundalike follow-up to his self-penned #3 hit "Everybody"]; Laura Lee's "Up Tight Good Man" (1968) [#16 soul/#93 pop]; and Ronnie Milsap's very first country charter (that transitioned him from soul), "I Hate You" (1973)[#10 country - the first of his 64 country hits and 49 top tens]. Only two records here even saw action as B-sides of 1960s charters: "Far from the Maddening Crowd" by the Drifters was on the flip side of their #51 hit from 1965, "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing"; and James & Bobby Purify's "So Many Reasons" was the Sam Cooke-esque B-side of their 1966 crossover smash "I'm Your Puppet" [#5 soul/#6 pop].
There are gems galore that you can't believe were unable to get any traction. First and foremost, Percy Sledge should have had his four-year chart drought interrupted with his excellent version of "Rainbow Road" from 1972, which is taken over the top by the terrific horn arrangement. And since James Carr's stone soul classic 1967 recording of "The Dark End of the Street" (my favorite of all Dan Penn's co-penned songs) could only rise to #77 on the pop chart, one would have thought that two years later (in the final year of his life as it turned out) the incomparably resonant voice of Roy Hamilton (so admired by Elvis Presley) could have had a comeback hit with his rendition. Brenda Lee pulls the biggest surprise here with her astonishingly soulful take on "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" from 1970. The problem of course was that this song had already become indelibly associated with Aretha Franklin from three years earlier. Hard to top Aretha in her prime, but Little Miss Dynamite comes incredibly close on this one.
I really enjoy the slightly off-kilter attempts to come up with a hit. Take Jerry Lee's little sister Linda Gail Lewis who finds herself on "Break Up the Party" in a similar situation to Lesley "It's My Party" Gore two years earlier - only Linda Gail just wants to be alone, not necessarily to cry. Linda Carr's "(Almost Persuaded to) Give Him One More Try" sounds oddly like the Shangri-Las meet Burt Bacharach; Bobby Patterson's "Long Ago" is a near-clone of Percy Sledge's "Warm and Tender Love," while Ted Taylor's "Without a Woman" splits the difference between Percy Sledge's and Joe Tex's "Woman" songs but adds his vibrantly soulful high tenor.
Near the end of the CD there are four tracks that bring Dan Penn into this century: Irma Thomas's "Zero Willpower" from 2000 is breathtaking in its deep soul beauty for all of its nearly six minutes; likewise (although at half the duration), Bobby Purify [real name: Ben Moore] on "Better to Have It"; the Mex-country-soul of the Hacienda Brothers on "What's Wrong with Right," featuring the warm raspy quaver of the late Chris Gaffney; and the all-out country weeper "Tearjoint" by Ted Roddy & the Tearjoint Troubadours.
This is great stuff spanning 42 years. Let's hope that another installment in this Dan Penn series is not out of the question.