BACK TO THE RIVER - MORE SOUTHERN SOUL STORIES 1961-1978
Not surprisingly a follow-up (of sorts) followed with 2011's Fame Studio Story (KENTBOX12). This was presented in a similar format to equally impressive commercial and critical success but it did however limit its attention to the wonderful recordings of a single studio. With this new release, effectively the third in the series, we now have a genuine follow-up to Take Me To The River, returning to a scope that incorporates a broader sweep of labels, regional variations and artists. And, unequivocally recommended as the first two volumes are, this just may be the best yet in the series!
The presentation format has been amended a little but it still comes in a high quality package, including an impressive 64 page booklet with a detailed summary of each artist and track plus rare photos. This is an enjoyable and informative supplement to a fabulous array of sumptuous music which runs the gamut from well-known classics to little-known and highly valuable obscurities, topped off with a generous helping of previously un-issued titles.
The first CD focuses on recordings from Muscle Shoals and Memphis, featuring an exemplary set of heart-breakers from Joe Perkins, Barbara West, Ella Washington and more. If forced to pick a favourite, I'd either got for the fragile sensitivity of Bettye LaVette's Nearer To You or Sam Baker’s evocative Sugarman, but frankly there ain’t a weak track here.
The second CD further explores other major centres of southern soul, taking in a broad sweep embracing Texas, New Orleans, Alabama and Miami. These tracks are again all knock-outs but I find myself returning to Stanley Winston's No More Ghettoes In America, offering an impassioned gospel-inflected vocal highlight that hopes for a better future for America. Reuben Bell’s more personal concerns on his after-hours tear-stained diary entry of Asking For The Truth also hits the spot every time.
The third and final CD presents tracks recorded in more northerly cities as displaced southerners sought to re-create the sounds of their home states. These tracks again are all top-notch. As evidence, I heartily recommend Otis Clay's impassioned That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love) and Freddie Scott’s under-stated reading of the classic Cry To Me. Then again, don’t miss out on Little Buster’s sophisticated class on Looking For A Home and the funky grooves of Bobby Rush’s Mary Jane (a lament to mood-enhancing substances or a lost love?).
A stunning collection and, if you don't grab a copy right now, this is definitely one for your Christmas list!
Review Date: October 2015