on 2 July 2014
The Contours were never really major players at Motown but had a few hits in it's early years, most notably the 1962 smash "Do You Love Me?", and they were mainly known for upbeat dance and novelty tracks in the '61-'64 period. However they did produced at least one indisputable classic in the decidedly non-PC, "First I Look At The Purse" and this compilation provides for the 1st time the to date unreleased re-cut of this great track and it cuts deep despite being not quite as superb as the original. Other than that this compilation provides a valuable service in yielding tracks from the declining years of The Contours when they were regularly swapping lead vocalists (Billy Gordon then Jerry Green then Dennis Edwards) and were trying to change the tenor of their music to a more 'mature' sound. This era coincides with the peak period of Motown, roughly from 1965 to 1968 and so whilst most of this music remained unreleased in the main it is pretty strong despite clearly being "production-line" Motown with a number of covers of tracks better known from other artists in their roster. There are strong tracks including the alternate version of "Baby Hit & Run" with a Jerry Green lead vocal, the dramatic "Our Last Rendezvous", the richly harmonised Northern-style dancer "Sometimes I Have To Cry", the punchy "Determination", the Northern Soul classic "Just A Little Misunderstanding" and the bluesy "Come See About Me" with a fairly raw backing track. Much of the rest of The Contours material is fairly generic Motown but only rarely less than pleasant.
There are also several tracks from Dennis Edwards who led The Contours for a period before leaving in high dudgeon (explained in the functional liner notes) and moving onto The Temptations. Several of these solo tracks somewhat lusher than The Contours tracks and therefore less to my taste but they also include the propulsive "Can't Do Without Your Love" and "Which Way To My Baby" which could easily be pretty strong Temptations tracks and there is also a fairly raw version of "Ain't That Peculiar" though the extended spoken intro to his version of "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted" doesn't work for me and rather spoils an otherwise solid cover.
The essay in the liner notes is solid and to the point rather than inspired but the liners do include recording dates which is a nice touch since the majority of the tracks are either previously unreleased or originally released on earlier archive collections (such as the excellent "Cellarful of Motown!" series). So for an archival compilation this is pretty strong by Kent standards, probably because it sticks to a pretty tight timescale ('65-'68) which happens to be the peak era of Motown - yes there is filler but most of this is worthwhile listening and after a rather weak year to date from Kent (I've only bought three of their releases to date in 2014 which would have been unthinkable previously) I'm pretty happy with this release so it just about justifies a 4-star mark.
on 28 July 2014
After being one of the pioneer acts of Motown in the early '60s THE CONTOURS seemed to fade away around 1967, just after having a minor hit with the melodic "It's So Hard Being A Loser". This collection combines previously released material with some that remained unissued at the time (including alternative versions of old favourites "First I Look At the Purse" and "Baby Hit And Run"). The overall "sound" here is generally rawer than much of what Motown was producing in 1965-68, which might explain why it was overlooked at the time, but almost 50 years on that just makes it sound fresher. Leaving aside the music, the booklet that comes with this release gives a fascinating insight into the internal workings of the group and the circumstances that led one of its members (DENNIS EDWARDS) to depart for international stardom with THE TEMPTATIONS.
on 6 July 2014
The period from 1965 to 1968 quite rightly is regarded as the peak of Motown's best releases. The songs, musical backing, recording techniques and artists were at a peak never found before or since.
This period was at the time an amazing current 'soul scene' and the UK's underground soul club DJ's were trying to find the best sounds for the rapidly discerning dancers. At the time 'First I Look At The Purse' was amongst the top ten plays. This established the group's sound for many collectors at the time, so to get a collection of rare and unheard songs and arrangements from this period is a sheer delight for those of us who clamoured for such music at the time.(and since) That it has taken so long for it to surface is to Motown/UM's disgrace whilst this (ACE)/KENT release is to their credit, and is recognition that not only will 'older' collectors relish this but that young soul fans will discover what we got hooked on back then.
Whilst some reviewers may see the group's lowly label reputation and success as a limiting factor in this set others will glory at the sheer quality of most of the performances. The group had faded as their novelty style between 1963 and 1965 had no longevity and Berry Gordy understandably didn't see they had any future. This selection with a substantial number of unreleased tracks shows that the writers, producers and the group members didn't think so and it was also the birth of the magnificent Dennis Edwards career which would reach it's full potential with the Temptations. His emerging vocal prowess is evident throughout this set. The group and Dennis were able to develop some mature and highly competent tracks and this set very much enhances their historical reputation.
Others may single out tracks for praise or criticism. I wouldn't be without any of them. They range is from Northern Soul styled hard dancers to mid-tempo ballads but they all fit together in a well designed playlist which make a holistic album unlike what Motown seemed able to conceive of at the time. Naturally because of Motown policy there are some covers that perhaps are more of historic interest than anyone's first choice. But for a set of disparate recordings with different lead vocalist the set works really well. It is simply a fact that Keith Hughes and Tony Rounce have not allowed the quality to slip below a high standard. These tracks are simply a different class to most of the 1963 unreleased tracks by various artists recently put out 'on line' to avoid copyright loss by UM.
The listening experienced is greatly enhanced by Keith's immaculately researched recording history notes. Some may complain several tracks appeared on the Cellarful Of Motown series of CD's but their repeat here is necessary to give a consistent and comprehensive set. The sound mastering is also consistent (helped by excellent MONO mixes throughout) and up to KENT's usual standard so overall this achieve's top marks as this years best soul CD for me so far.
Any Northern Soul event would please it's attendee's by playing this historic collection.
on 30 October 2015
A "romper stomper" from beginning to end! Not one bad song in the bunch. Many heretofore unknown and mostly uptempo gems and probably THE best cover version of the Bobby Hebb hit "Sunny", which Stevie and Marvin also covered, but this version has real driving soul. Also much better than most of the stuff on most of the other The Contours anthologies that have been released in the past years. I defy anyone to able to sit still when they put this one on