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Sweet Inspiration: The Songs Of Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham
Format: Audio CDChange
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
You know you're in the presence of a great compilation when the compilers put Dionne Warwick and Charlie Rich on a 'soul' CD - clever choices and class acts. And this latest issue in Ace's 'Songwriters' series is a real class act - a bit of a masterpiece frankly. But to the details first...

Released Monday 31 January 2011 in the UK (15 February 2011 in the USA), Ace Records CDCHD 1284 breaks down as follows (66:52 minutes):

1. Out Of Left Field by PERCY SLEDGE (1967, Atlantic 2396)
2. I'm Your Puppet by DIONNE WARWICK (1968, Scepter 12352)
3. Sweet Inspiration by THE SWEET INSPIRATIONS (1968, Atlantic 2476)
4. A Woman Left Lonely by CHARLIE RICH (1971, Epic 10745)
5. I Good Things Don't Worship The Ground You Walk On by ETTA JAMES (1968, Cadet 5606)
6. I'm Living Good by THE OVATIONS (1969, Goldwax 342)
7. Take Me (Just As I Am) by SOLOMON BURKE (1967, Atlantic 2416)
8. Cry Like A Baby by ARTHUR ALEXANDER (1969, Sound Stage 7 2652)
9. It Tears Me Up by JEANNE NEWMAN (Previously Unreleased Goldwax Recording From 1966)
10. Slippin' Around With You by ART FREEMAN (1966, Fame 1008)
11. I Met Her In Church by TONY BORDERS (1969, Revue 11040)
12. Are You Never Coming Home by SANDY POSEY (1967, MGM 13824)
13. Let It Happen by JAMES CARR (Previously Unissued Alternate Version of Goldwax 323)
14. Everything I Am by THE BOX TOPS (1967, Mala 580)
15. Feed The Flame by TED TAYLOR (1967, Atco 6481)
16. Watching The Trains Go by TONY JOE WHITE (1968, Monument 1053)
17. In The Same Old Way by ARTHUR CONLEY (1966, Fame 1007)
18. Denver by RONNIE MILSAP (1969, Scepter 12246)
19. Dreamer by PATTI LaBELLE And THE BLUEBELLES (1967, Atlantic 2408)
20. Good Things Don't Come Easy by IRMA THOMAS (Originally Unissued Chess Recording From 1967 Put Out In 1988)
21. I Need Someone by THE WALLACE BROTHERS (1968, Jewel 792)
22. He Ain't Gonna Do Right by BARBARA LYNN (1968, Atlantic 2585)
23. Wish You Didn't Have To Go by TOMMY ROE (1965, ABC 10706)
24. Let's Do It Over by JOE SIMON (1965, Vee-Jay 694)

The mastering has been done by NICK ROBBINS at Sound Mastering in London and the extensive 28-page booklet features a 10,000-word exploration of every track by noted soul aficionados TONY ROUNCE and BOB DUNHAM. I've raved about the Bear Family CD compilations "Sweet Soul Music" from 1961 to 1970 (reviewed all 10) and their great sound and packaging (regularly hitting 70 pages and beyond in each booklet) - well Ace are on the same tip here because their booklet is a truly fabulous read - and beautifully laid out. There isn't a wasted page - photos of the artists - 7" US singles in their label bags (some demos) - trade adverts - it's just a feast of informative and enthusiastic detail that enhances your enjoyment of these deeply Southern Soul sides. Even the inlay under the see-through plastic tray advertises other Ace releases with Penn/Oldham songs on them - and after hearing this peach - imminent purchase of all seven advertised CDs may become a priority - credit-crunch or no...

The sound quality varies from the merely good ("Out Of Left Field") to the stupendous ("Take Me (Just As I Am)", "Dreamer" and "I Need Someone" - and back again. Mostly it just sounds great throughout. These are big American labels and rarely does the quality dip. But what overrides all of that is the awesome material itself and how it's been sequenced...

Take "I'm Your Puppet" (lyrics above) - the version everyone knows and loves is by James And Bobby Purify - Ace has craftily chosen a lesser-heard but equally sweet Dionne Warwick version from her 1969 US album "Soulful". When I put this CD in our shop play shuffle on Saturday, this track immediately brought soul customers to the counter asking after it. The intense Percy Sledge version of "It Tears Me Up" is another - the compilers know that as good as Sledge may be, Percy's version has been heard one too many times - so it's been replaced with a countrified-soul version by Bobby Gentry soundalike Jeanne Newman - and it's just brilliant. And a major previously unreleased coup occurs with the James Carr track - Ace have uncovered an alternate take of the slow and majestic "Let It Happen" where the background vocals are removed - it even features him talking a little as the track plays out - wow!

Then there's the picture on Page 17 of the ultra-rare Tony Borders Fame 7" single "I Met Her In Church" - it's a Northern Soul monster and will have NS fans weak at the knees and stroking their debit cards with an evil glint in their eye - already forming a great excuse for the wife when she gets to see the bank statements at the end of the month. It all ends of a lethal triple-whammy - Barbara Lynn and Joe Simon versions to die for - even the "Dizzy" Tommy Roe gets a moment to shine on "Wish You Didn't Have To Go".

Niggles - I suppose looking at the 66 minute plus playing time - you could argue that more tracks should have been included, but actually I think the lack of overkill is perfect - quality and not quantity.

To sum up - both Penn and Oldham have been underground white-boy songwriters for Black Soul music for decades - and finally this disc does them justice. I'm more than impressed - easily one the hippest and best reissues to date in 2011. Well-done boys and roll on Volume 2...

PS: if you want to hear Dan Penn cover his own huge hits - check out his own solo outing on CD from 1991 called "Do Right Man" - it's brilliant and he's possessed of the loveliest Tony Joe White type voice and warmth.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2011
I believe that Sweet Inspiration is the best album released by Ace Records in 2011 and I rate it as a solid five star album!!!
To begin with, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham are masters of Southern soul, and these songs exemplify what the musical genre can artistically achieve through intelligent and awe-inspiring songwriting.
Here is what I believe Southern soul is all about: Southern soul music, is made up of different stories which represent various aspects of the human condition. You have stories of lonely and desolate people saved and spiritually elevated by love; you have stories of hurt and regret, stories of wanting to make good after inflicting wrong; stories of the passionate and guilt ridden and the different roads that they've taken; stories of the volatility and insecurity of life, where love is generously offered one moment, and suddenly and without any reason, immediately withdrawn. And of course there are stories of betrayal; women betraying men and men betraying women, as well as endless other tales.
What makes quality Southern soul really special to me, is that you have all these great singers acting out all these fantastic stories and poignantly and passionately bringing them to life. This is something that Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham artfully achieve through their masterful music.
There best songs are spiritually unlifting and very poetic, and not only is one enthralled and really moved by the beautiful melody, but also the story being told as acted out by the very talented singers.
In conclusion, there are too many great songs on this album to go through them one by one. All I can say is go out and buy it, because this is an excellent album!!!!!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2011
The kid born as Daniel Pennington was in his early teens when he first heard black music on the radio and by the time he was 16 he joined Benny Cagle & the Rhythm Swingstars which is where he met soon to be Nashville producer Billy Sherill.Both would join the Fairlanes where he became the singer.Cutting a single for the Spar label Penn had written a song called Is A Bluebird Blue which Conway Twitty recorded.This was in 1960.
The Spar label was owned by Florence Alabama Music Enterprises or FAME for short.A recording studio which has begun with a single called A Fallen Star made by one Bobby Denton and issued on the Tune label who became a politician and ended up as the State Senator.But the song ended up with 5 covers on the Hot 100 including Ferlin Husky and Jimmy Newman.It was at this studio where one Lindon Oldham was a musician.Denton was a rarity among State Senators in that he was completely normal and had the same wife for over 50 years at the time of writing,returning after 40 years to the music business when he cut 5 albums in the 90s
Florence Alabama was the birthplace of Sandy Posey as well as the Carter Family & Cathy who were a white Gospel act and nothing to do with the real Carter Family
The first hit to come out of Fame was by former bellhop Arthur Alexander who was to become the only artist to have songs covered by the Beatles,Stones and Elvis.
So this is the background to what's on this CD
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2011
I purchased Do Right Man a number of years ago. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it. If the new C.D. is the same quality then it will be just as pleasurable listening to it. I saw Dan and Spooner in concert at The Arches in Glasgow a number of years ago. They were stunning. It was an acoustic soul set by Dan with Spooner accompanying him on the electric organ.The combination of Dan's soulful vocals and acoustic guitar, singing those wonderful songs made it a masterpiece. His vocals sounded even better live. Spooner accompanied Dan and reminisced about working with some of the stars from the 60's. It was a privilege listening to these two artists singing and playing real soul music.
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on 3 June 2013
Not always the obvious choices of recordings of these songs but it goes to show the quality of the writing. Another great album from Ace.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2011
Stax is one of the great cultural phenomena of the 20th century, filled with hope, love, and sweet inspiration, that's for sure. The collosal contribution of Penn and Oldham to that wonderful moment needs to be commemorated at evey opportunity. This is a very well chosen collection, and contains some interesting non-standard versions of the great songs. Buy it!
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