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THE FAME STUDIOS STORY 1961-1973 (3CD)

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Kent (KENTBOX12)

Arthur Alexander, Dan Penn, Spooner & The Spoons, Clarence & Calvin, Wilson Pickett, Jimmy Hughes,  June Conquest, Don Covay, Laura Lee, Irma Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Spencer Wiggins, Otis Clay, Etta James, Clarence Carter, Willie Hightower, Little Richard, Travis Wammack, Candi Staton, Roscoe Robinson, Mitty Collier, Wallace Brothers, Bettye Swann etc.

Remember Kent's wonderful ‘Take Me To The River' that was released in 2009? (KENTBOX10) Well here comes the follow up with yet more inspirational southern soul from the best ever labels of the genre.

‘The Fame Studios Story' researchers Alec Palao, Dean Rudland and Tony Rounce have put together a wonderful hard cover book-set of three compact discs heaving with the best of the golden decade's southern soul complete with notes stuffed with intimate interviews and articles that mark the rise of one of America's greatest recording studios with deep insights into the music made there together with loads of information about the sessions that produced it.

The hits started flowing in 1962 when producer and songwriter Rick Hall took charge of Florence Alabama Music Enterprises and built his legendary studio on East Avalon Avenue. Singles from Jimmy Hughes (Neighbor Neighbor), Joe Tex (Hold What You Got), Wilson Pickett (Land Of A Thousand Dances), Arthur Conley (Sweet Soul Music), Etta James (Tell Mama), Aretha Franklin (I Never Loved A Man), Clarence Carter (Snatchin' It Back) and Otis Redding (You Left The Water Running) represent just a handful of the southern soul classics made at Fame that burst into the charts during the sixties. 

Rick Hall's success inspired songwriters like Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Quin Ivy, Chips Moman, Quinton Claunch and George Jackson to join in and write hit after hit for the soul stars that rolled up to record with the studio band who themselves became legendary in soul music circles. Musicians like Roger Hawkins, David Briggs, Jimmy Johnson and Norbert Putnam became the most sought after session band around - especially when augmented by other hot session men like Barry Beckett, Felton Jarvis, Jerry Reed, Joe South and Duane Allman. Naturally, it didn't take long for larger companies like Chess, Atlantic, Jewel, Ronn and Soundstage 7 to realise that this little studio had an especially lucrative sound so they began bringing their own singers into the Fame studio to capture for themselves some of the magic the session band had to offer.

Palao, Rudland and Rounce describe all this history in depth in notes that are brought alive by their spot-on choice of tracks. Many of the big hits are here but I especially appreciate the inclusion of special tracks like Let Them Talk - a 1974 single from Dan Penn, the unissued Feed The Flame by Otis Redding's protégé Billy Young, the best version you'll ever hear of Slippin' Around With You by Art Freeman and a great unissued demo of Slip Away from Clarence Carter. Another fascinating item is the powerfully funky Why Don't You Try Me Tonight by Maurice And Mac. This was an uncharacteristic flop in 1968 but many of you will know Ry Cooder's version which was hugely successful on his ‘Borderline' album twelve years later. Then there's a sublime I'd Rather Go Blind from the great Spencer Wiggins, a muscular remake of Joe South's Walk A Mile In My Shoes hollered out by Willie Hightower in a voice described by writer Barney Hoskins as sounding like "Sam Cooke after a night on the tiles" and the dreamy reconstruction of Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On from guitarist Travis Wammack of Scratchy fame.

‘The Fame Studios Story' is, without doubt, the best slab of soul to come out this year and no self-respecting music lover should be without it. Don't delay! Hint like mad at your family and friends. You must have this for Christmas!

Review Date: October 2011

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