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Motown Treasure Trove
on 13 July 2007
The story of how a singer named Saundra Mallett, who had had one Tamla single out in 1962, and a vocal group in the Isley Brothers mould called the Downbeats, who recorded for the same label, joined forces to become a hit combo called the Elgins, is well documented and illustrated on this two-disc anthology, which draws together pretty much everything they recorded, both separately and together.
The Elgins' hit 1965 single Darling Baby provided the title track of their V.I.P. album of the following year, which also included the hits Heaven Must Have Sent You, Put Yourself In My Place and Stay In My Lonely Arms. The entire album, mixed in stereo, is included in full and comprises the first twelve tracks of disc one. Saundra shines on all the lead vocals on the album, apart from 634-5789 and When A Man Loves A Woman on which Johnny Dawson sings lead. It was mostly recorded in 1966, but It's Gonna Be Hard Times dates from 1962, and was the B-side of her solo single on which she was joined by the three Vandellas and Marvin Gaye on piano. Most of the album was produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, with several original Holland-Dozier-Holland songs from when they were on a huge roll, but one of my favourites is No Time For Tears, which Norman Whitfield produced. The Marvelettes did the great original version of this but that was buried on a B-side, and Saundra here makes it her own.
The original mono singles and their B-sides are also included separately, as well as those by Saundra Mallett and the Downbeats, but the revelation here once again is the quality of the wealth of previously unreleased material. The second disc includes fifteen tracks by the Downbeats, more than enough for a pretty good album, and all but three of these are appearing for the first time (one is a superior alternative mix of a 1962 single). A couple of these may never have been intended for release as they are fairly blatant carbon copies of existing songs: Party Time bears a strong similarity to Pony Time by Chubby Checker, and Let The Groove Roll On is a secular version of Mahalia Jackson's Let The Church Roll On via Chris Kenner's I Like It Like That. Both bring out the gospel fervour of the Downbeats, though, and sound terrific.
Yvonne Vernee Allen took over as lead singer in 1968 but nothing was released from her tenure with the Elgins, until now: there are four excellent examples of her work with the Elgins on disc one, produced by James Dean and William Weatherspoon, and reflecting the Motown sound of the time.
These Motown Anthologies are pure treasure trove and this opens another largely unknown chapter.