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Blue-eyed Dusty Soul,
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This review is from: The Motown Collection (Audio CD)
Apart from a couple of titles on anthologies, the recordings of the blonde blue-eyed soul sister Chris Clark have been out of print for so long that most record buyers now have probably never even heard of the lady. Those soul aficionados who had, and were aware how good she was, must have thought all their Chris-masses were coming at once when they heard about this double CD. Not only does it contain disc both of her albums in full, along with the singles and their B-sides, but also tracks from Motown's vaults that have never before seen the light of day. These two discs between them contain everything officially released during her career, and the bulk of what wasn't. So how do they stack up?
The first LP, Soul Sounds, was mostly recorded in August 1967 but includes previously released singles, including her first, Do Right Baby Do Right, from December 1965, with the Lewis Sisters on back-up vocals. These include her only hit, the wonderful Love's Gone Bad from 1966, and the divine and funky follow up, I Want To Go Back There Again.
These were the only two singles I had at the time and I was very curious to hear more, as they exemplified for me the classic Motown sound of that period. Never having seen a picture of her, I had no idea she was one of very few white female singers signed to Motown, decked out like a six-foot Dusty Springfield complete with big hair, but I certainly appreciated the glorious creamy voice and the Funk Brothers' bubbling grooves upon which she floated, and listened keenly to both flipsides, which included her slightly jazzier version of the Elgins' Put Yourself In My Place. The album is full of such gems including two later singles, her contagious version of the Miracles' From Head To Toe and finally, in the States only, Whisper You Love Me Boy, the Mary Wells single-that-wasn't, and is probably her finest hour. There are versions of the Four Tops' Until You Love Someone and a smouldering rendition of Frank Wilson's Sweeter As The Days Go By, though there are signs that she was being moved away from the traditional Motown approach into a more mainstream, poppier sound. The album is presented here in its stereo mix from the original master tapes. Hats off to the label for making this available, and for adding the three non-album B-sides from this period (Apart from I Love You, these are in mono).
The other LP on disc one is CC Rides Again, a concept album masterminded by Deke Richards in 1969, which is less successful. Its Motown origins are disguised in a somewhat misguided attempt to cross over to the hip Haight Ashbury audience, with Chris Clark disguised as "CC" (as if people knew who she was in the first place), and even issued on a newly devised underground-sounding label, Weed ("All Your Favourite Artists Are On.....Weed"!).
Chris Clark's singing is sublime, but, unlike Norman Whitfield's work that same year with the Temptations, this is very Hollywood hippie-lite, both in David Van DePitte's arrangements and in the choice of material, which veers into Fifth Dimension territory, and is far less experimental than that of other labels at the time such as Chess, Stax or Curtom. There are two original songs that work quite well, but the rest consists of show tunes from trendy musicals such as The Point and Hair, a couple of safe Beatles tunes, two Blood Sweat And Tears songs (one of which was originally by Motown's Brenda Holloway) and an Elvis cover, with snippets from Richard Strauss and Rossini opening each album side, and the love theme from Romeo And Juliet tacked on elsewhere.
At the time, the album sold about 200 copies. It should have done a whole heap better, but could not be said to be her most essential work.
Much more exciting is the second disc, subtitled Previously Unreleased, and containing 25 newly released masters recorded between 1965 and 1969, all stereo apart from tracks 14-17 and 19-23. Unreleased at the time but not included here are Sweet Lovin', which was held back for A Cellarful Of Motown Vol. 2, and her legendary versions of Frank Wilson's Do I Love You, one of which is on Tamla Motown Connoisseurs Vol. 1 and the other on the first Cellarful Of Motown.
Chris Clark is quoted as saying that they cut three times as much material as they needed, but it seems quite ludicrous that some of these were not considered suitable for release at the time, and one can only be glad that finally they have a chance to be heard.
Some of the Motown songs, and occasionally the actual backing tracks, are very familiar (Ask Any Girl, Everything Is Good About You, Try It Baby, I Like Everything You, Take Me In Your Arms, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday - her version pre-dating Stevie Wonder's, Your Wonderful Love, Mighty Good Lovin') but never sung quite like this.
In The Neighborhood, produced by Mickey Stevenson, with "hit" written all through it like a stick of rock, has been recorded by half a dozen Motown artistes but not released by any of them until now. I Just Can't Forget Him is an obvious attempt at a Burt Bacharach pastiche and dates surprisingly from her earliest sessions in 1965. Mr Maestro Play A Blue Sonata is another potential hit single. He's Got The Whole World In His Hands, with some fantastic guitar licks, is the only listenable version of that particular song. He's Good For Me was originally intended for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and you can still hear their background vocals on the track. If You Let Me Baby and Everything's Right Everything's Wrong are both new songs that were left off CC Rides Again to its detriment. I Just Wanna Be Lovin' You sounds like a Four Tops tune that got away.
And so on, until we reach the last track, a mighty eight-minute disco workout, written by Tom Baird and produced by Berry Gordy (who produced her first single). It is undated but would seem to be a sole survivor from the seventies (by which time she had mostly moved over into photography, film scriptwriting and editing), and would have done huge business in the clubs. It probably is at this very moment; it all comes around.