VINE VOICEon 15 January 2008
Until the release of this Anthology, Brenda Holloway's three years as a recording artist at Motown were best represented by the 50-minute compilation Greatest Hits And Rare Classics, which scarcely did justice to one of their finest singers, especially since it only included three selections that were solely album tracks. The Motown Anthology handsomely addresses this by including her sole album in full, and over its two and a quarter hours gathers together pretty much everything that was released at the time and quite a lot that was not, all laid out in a logical and clear fashion.
Disc One contains stereo mixes of both the complete album Every Little Bit Hurts and the unreleased album Hurtin' And Cryin' that was due for release in 1967 but was canned because a couple of singles, released in advance of the album, failed to chart. Several of its tracks were released on singles, others appeared in November 1968 on a British compilation called The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway (which also included tracks from Every Little Bit Hurts as it had not been given a UK release), but six of the twelve are previously unreleased. It is fabulous to be able to hear some of these wonderful recordings for the first time after all these years. They are timeless and can never sound dated, although they do sound almost other worldly compared to the music being created today. Indeed, one wonders whether the recording industry as it exists now would be able to recreate this kind of music at all. All the more reason to treasure these recovered moments.
Disc One includes six of her nine single A-sides including her debut, the incomparable Every Little Bit Hurts, and her biggest hits, When I'm Gone and You've Made Me So Very Happy, which she co-wrote with her sister Patrice, along with Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson. This later became an even bigger success when covered by Blood, Sweat And Tears. The booklet contains all the available information about recording dates, release dates and record numbers, as well as an insightful essay about her career, written by Paul Nixon.
When the album Every Little Bit Hurts came out in stereo, eighteen months after the mono release, it was apparently in re-channeled stereo, so for some of these titles it may well be their first time release in true stereo. Unfortunately, a couple of the tape masters appear to be in very poor condition. Every Little Bit Hurts is particularly affected, with the vocals wobbling horribly in the right-hand channel, with reverb occasionally veering alarmingly to the left-hand side, to the point where one wishes a mono master had been used instead. Similarly, on Hurtin' And Cryin', Hurt A Little Every Day has distortion that suggests it was mastered from a badly punished flexi-disc. As it used the same backing track as Kim Weston's unreleased version that turned up on her Motown Anthology, it is unfortunate that the two versions couldn't have been paired somehow to recreate a new clean Brenda Holloway master.
Disc Two is entitled The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway: Singles, Rare And Unreleased, a pretty fair description of what's on it, since as well as rounding up the other half-dozen stereo tracks from The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway, all of which had originally been on singles, it has one other B-side and a promo-only propaganda single, backed by the Supremes (in the studio to record their vocals for Going Down For The Third Time), entitled Play It Cool, Stay In School.
The remainder of the second disc consists of a further fifteen titles that were unreleased at the time, only a couple of which have since turned up on CD compilations. From the catchy floor-filling Northern Soul opener Think It Over (Before You Break My Heart) to the live version of Summertime where she accompanies herself on violin, recorded at the 20 Grand in Detroit, a popular spot for Motown artists to try out new songs at record hops, there are some simply stunning recoveries from the vaults to be heard here. Some had been circulating on high-priced low-quality bootlegs for some time, such as Come Into A Palace, a duet between Brenda and Patrice (her younger sister who was to become the voice of Valerie in the cartoon Josie And The Pussycats, and who sadly passed on in 2006). Here it is in a hi-fi stereo mix.
Who Could Ever Doubt My Love came out by the Supremes, He's My Kind Of Fellow by Gladys Knight, and Love Woke Me Up This Morning by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Now we can hear what Brenda Holloway's unique vocals did to the same material and judge for ourselves whether Motown chose the right versions to release. It's often a tough call as the label was overflowing with talent and recording material far faster than it could put it out.
Since the release of this Anthology, further gems by Brenda Holloway have turned up on A Cellarful of Motown!, Cellarful of Motown!, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3- Cellarful Of Motown! Rarest Detroit Grooves, with more undoubtedly to come. In the mean time, be sure not to pass over these. They are already up to forty-four years overdue.