Of all of the 2-for-1 UK Motown releases this is easily the best of the lot. Unlike many motown albums of the time neither of these albums contain derivative covers of other Motown classics. That said there a number of tracks that were recorded by other artists "Gonna Keep on tryin' till I win your love" and "You beat me to the punch", "He Who Picks a Rose" and "Way over there." As far as I know Edwin Starr was the first to record Gonna Keep on tryin' till I win your love- a fantastic Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong penned classic also recorded by Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ruffin and the Temptations. All of the other covers are certainly reworkings rather than note for note copies of the originals, unlike his covers of Temptations albums songs on the War and Peace album.
The original material here is stunning and far outperforms any of his (or even Motown's) 70's material. "Agent Double 'O' Soul", "I am the man for you baby", "Stop her on sight", "oh how happy" - frankly I better stop there because EVERY song on these albums are an absolutely perfect slice of 60's soul. Its amazing to hear how Edwin manages to take his Southern Soul roots and then perfectly blends it with the Motown Sound. While there are three or four ballads on these albums, the rest of the material is simply blistering. One note that needs to be made about these two albums is that they mainly comprise of singles and b-sides, but this is to the benefit of the cd as all of these tracks are commercial motown songs that were intended to storm the pop charts and there really isn't any 'filler' here at all.
Then there are the two previously unreleased exclusive tracks Girls are Gettin' Prettier and Its My Turn Now (Harlem is available on the Hits of Edwin Starr cd) which pretty much maintain the standards set here though they sound much rawer than the rest of the songs here (they were recorded on Ric-Tic, a smaller label that Motown purchased mainly to get Edwin Starr on their books.) They make this album stand out from any best of collection as they are not available any where else. It is no surpise that Northern Soul fans have loved Edwin Starr's 60's material for so long- it wasn't until the "War" song that he made the crossover into mainstream and yet this is just as good as anything made by Motown in this period and definately more consistent.
Now the problem- getting this album is just about impossible unless you wait patiently for it to turn up on ebay or amazon marketplace. Motown UK is not making anymore copies of this and finding this even on the internet is like finding a needle in haystack. This isn't just one for Northern Soul enthusiasts- anybody who likes 60's soul should want to own this so it needs to be reissued at the very least. Alternatively Motwon UK or Rhino should set about giving this soul master the tribute that his talent deserves- a box set with rarities and live tracks and ALL of his 60's output.
Edwin Starr I was very fortunate to see live once at the Isle of Wight Scooter Rally in the mid-80's. He was amazing Live, the energy, the soulful voice. The twin package on this CD really marks his wonderful pre-'War' and pre 70's Tamla Motown work. Soulmaster contains I feel his best work,'Agent Double-O-Soul', 'SOS','Headline News' and the real standout track, 'My Weakness is You' all wonderful Soul Standards of the Mid to late 60's. 25 Miles standout track is that great Northern Soul All-Nighter clasic '25 Miles' a song you can't fail to dance to. The rest of the CD is full of treasures not normally found on compilations albums, so it sounds new and fresh. Remastering is excellent and the packaging of the two albums on one CD, make this a well thought out package plus the three non-lP extra tracks. Classic Soul from a truly great artist.