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Blessed with such an embarrassment of talent, it's not surprising that Motown occasionally let some truly gifted artists slip through its corporate fingers in the 1960s. And chief amongst those whose potential went unrealised was Brenda Holloway.
Despite an achingly lovelyvoice, mature beyond her years, Holloway's legacy at the label amounted to just three top 40 hits, a solitary US album and a British compilation. Her first, and best known, recording was "Every Little Bit Hurts" in 1964, which helped win a support slot on a Beatles' American tour. Four years later, at the age of 21, she had turned her back on the company and on the music industry, claiming that she was being offered inferior material and insufficient career development.
On the evidence of this comprehensive double-CD, she had a point. Comprising everything she recorded for Motown, including an entire second album that was never released, it's both hugely appealing and, occasionally, deeply frustrating. The inconsistency is evident in the space of two tracks from her 1964 album: covers of the standards "Embraceable You" and "Unchained Melody" the former all smoky jazz sophistication, the latter merely superfluous.
Elsewhere she takes on blues ballads, Northern Soul style stompers, finger-popping Smokey Robinson dance tracks and even echoes of the girl groups: the spoken introduction to "Hurt A Little Everyday" is pure Shangri-Las. At the time maybe it felt unfocussed, but in retrospect the diversity is tribute to her extraordinary range. And even though the songs aren't always from the top drawer, a trio of her own compositions "(Suddenly", "Land of a Thousand Boys" and "You Made Me So Very Happy", later the first hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears) suggest that her song-writing talent should have been more carefully nurtured.
If 48 tracks seems excessive, this retails at standard single-CD price and reveals unexpected depth to an often overlooked artist. Amongst the nuggets waiting to be discovered are Holloways violin solo on a live "Summertime" and an exhortation to "Play It Cool, Stay In School" with the wise advice: 'When you learn more, you're bound to earn more.' --Alwyn Turner
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