This is 79:42 of country-soul heaven (just 18 seconds shy of filling the entire disc)!
Just as I declared the first volume, "Behind Closed Doors - Where Country Meets Soul," to be the oldies compilation of the year 2012, ditto for Volume 2 and 2013. It's another outstanding package with the clearest, crispest and warmest sound remastering, along with a brilliant, twenty-page illustrated color booklet containing incisive, insightful and informative notes on each song and artist. (I thought I knew who most of the original country recording artists were until I read these notes. Impressive research!) But ultimately it's about the music and everything here is really, really good ranging to superlative. It's astounding how many of these country songs are taken to even greater heights by the sensational soul artists here (most of whom, unsurprisingly, are originally from the South).
By the way, I have just committed the act of self-plagiarism as I repeated virtually everything I wrote in my review last August about Volume One. There has been no drop-off in quality in any way. If I had to pick one over the other, I would have to go with this present Volume 2 for a sentimental reason: it includes Bobby Hebb's "A Satisfied Mind" from 1966 [#39 pop/#40 soul] (the follow-up to his immortal #2 pop/#3 soul smash "Sunny"), which was the first of this hybrid genre that I ever purchased (as a teenager).
The other charting hits here (on Billboard): "Sometimes" by Facts of Life (1977) [#3 soul/#31 pop]; "Funny How Time Slips Away" by Dorothy Moore (1976)[#7 soul/#58 pop]; "Help Me Make It Through the Night" by Joe Simon (1971)[#13 soul/#69 pop]; "Sweet Music Man" by Millie Jackson (1978)[#33 soul].
B-sides of charting hits: "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)" by Isaac Hayes (1971); "Statue of a Fool" by David Ruffin (1976).
Every one of these cited sides is superb, but these two B-sides by Isaac Hayes and David Ruffin reach the stratosphere. Hayes does the seemingly impossible with his radical reworking of Hank Williams's 1951 masterpiece of heartbroken pain, retaining the cutting emotion but in a lushly orchestrated, ultra-mellow and soulful framework. While obviously less stark than the original, it adds a deep layer of reflection. As for David Ruffin's "Statue of a Fool" (a remake of Jack Greene's 1969 #1 country hit), if only the fools who were programming music for the radio in 1976 had flipped this disc over they would have discovered not only Van McCoy's most compellingly gorgeous production while with Motown but also a David Ruffin at his most anguished and vulnerable. Now that I think of it, this was way too heartrending, harrowing and poignant for the commercial market in 1976, the year of "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty," "Disco Lady," "Boogie Fever" and the like.
Of the non-charting A-sides, Bettye Swann makes it two strong years in a row in this series with her Deep Southern soul take from 1969 on Hank Cochran's "Don't You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me)," originally a 1966 #11 country hit for Ray Price. Her beautifully soulful quaver could well have made Robin and and Barry Gibb envious. And who knew with all the contemporaneous country versions of Kris Kristofferson's 1969 big breakthrough song "Sunday Morning Coming Down," an instant country standard, that veteran R&B stalwart Hank Ballard (the creator of "The Twist" in 1959) did a terrific five-minute soul version of the song in 1970 on the Silver Fox label (produced by Lelan Rogers, Kenny's older brother)? Ted Taylor's soaring high tenor simply stuns on his very well-made answer record to Esther Phillips's recent R&B and pop hit version of the country standard "Release Me." Speaking of Esther Phillips, her 1969 rendition of the title song here, Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams" (immortalized by Patsy Cline), deserved to be a huge crossover hit in the manner of Ray Charles's "I Can't Stop Loving You" (also a Don Gibson song) seven years earlier. The late, great Etta james gets into the act with her scintillating 1970 take on the Louvin Brothers' "When I Stop Dreaming." But who, pray tell, is Eddie James (no relation to Etta presumably) and how did he appear out of nowhere in 1972 (before quickly vanishing) to come up with such an intensely soulful reading of Charley Pride's 1969 #1 country smash "All I Have to Offer You"?
Of the LP tracks, we're looking at the stellar talents of the Sweet Inspirations, Otis Redding, the recently departed Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor (forget "Disco Lady" from nine years later on a different label), James Carr and Clarence Carter, so it would be hard to go wrong. I will only single out the most obvious moment of sheer delight on the whole CD: partway into Johnnie Taylor's 1967 version of Merle Travis's "Sixteen Tons" - a 1946 song about oppressed coal miners no less - the funky Stax groove laid down behind him by Booker T & the MGs with the Memphis Horns gets so deep that Johnnie T can't restrain himself from letting out a "do the boogaloo one time" ad lib before starting the second verse.
Please, Ace/Kent, don't stop now! Give us Volume 3 - and make sure it includes Bettye Swann's 1973 soul cover of Tammy Wynette's "Till I Get It Right" as promised in the booklet notes for Volume One.