V/A – Studio One Soul (2001)

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Various Artists – STUDIO ONE SOUL
Released on Soul Jazz Records (SJRCD 050), 2001

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Leroy Sibbles – Express Yourself
Norma Fraser – Respect
Leroy Sibbles – Groove Me
The Sound Dimension – Time Is Tight
The Heptones – Message From A Black Man
Otis Gayle – I’ll Be Around
Jerry Jones – Still Water
The Sound Dimension – Soulful Strut
Richard Ace – Can’t Get Enough
The Chosen Few – Don’t Break Your Promise
The Eternals – Queen Of The Minstrel
Norma Fraser – The First Cut Is The Deepest
Ken Parker – How Strong
Ken Boothe – Set Me Free
Senior Soul – Is It Because I’m Black
Jackie Mittoo – Deeper & Deeper
Alton Ellis – I Don’t Want To Be Right
Willie Williams – No One Can Stop Us

Produced by C.S. Dodd

Some artists whose material is interpreted here: The Impressions, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Syl Johnson, P.P. Arnold, The Delfonics, and more
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I am sick with a winter cold and need to conserve my voice, so I will try to keep my words here brief and succinct for once… Besides, I think everybody already has this collection, don’t they? If you haven’t heard it then you are in for a real treat. It’s a Friday. This is a great Friday record. As Honest Jons highlights in the accompanying booklet, the music on this collection is all about transculturation and the flow of ideas, politics, and music circulating around the waters of the Black Atlantic. These songs are not just “covers”, but reinventions, “responses” (as Jons calls them) from soul to soul. No disrespect to Aretha or Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd — but for me at least the original recordings of “Express Yourself” and “Respect” are kind of ‘played out’ — classic and brilliant, of course, but I’ve just heard them so many times that they usually fail to inspire me at this point in my life. The versions here breathe new life into those cuts. About the only track that doesn’t shine much (again, my personal opinion) is Norma Fraser’s take on “The First Cut is the Deepest”. It a nice enough treatment, and the song’s beauty can’t be contained (although sadly the song was murdered by one awful American singer in 2003 who shan’t be named..). It’s just that I feel Fraser’s doesn’t really add much to it, and her reading is almost bereft of any emotion compared to the P.P. Arnold recording, which for my money is the definitive version. Perhaps the song is so transcultural that the vibe actually gets lost somewhere: a song written by Cat Stevens (whose own cultural biography is deliciously rich), made famous by an American singer and former Ike & Tina backing singer P.P. Arnold, who relocated to England and recorded for the Immediate! record label and began hanging out with the likes of Steve Marriot and the Small Faces, and given a Caribbean reinterpretation here. It’s cool and and I can dig it (baby) but I just end up wanting to hear P.P. Arnold sing it again.

Leroy Sibbles is a bad-ass.

But the great thing about this compilation is that it reminds us just how incredible the songwriting really is in classic soul music – a song like The Supremes “Set Me Free” could receive equally-inspired and utterly different interpretations from the likes of Vanilla Fudge and Ken Boothe and still be instantly recognizable. Jamming on for seven minutes, it should be pointed out that the Boothe version actually has the instrumental track just repeated twice in its entirety, almost like having a dub version tacked on to the full vocal version. Senior Soul’s reworking of Syl Johnson’s “Is It Because I’m Black” is also great (Ken Boothe would also cover this tune, incidentally. I’ll leave it up to you which one is the stronger..)

THIS COLLECTION NEEDS MORE WOMEN ON IT. That’s about my only gripe, though.

A nice feature of the packaging is that Soul Jazz took the trouble to give us some notes on the original tunes, including details about their composition and production that add additional depth to their Jamaican recontextualization. There is a second volume to Studio One Soul and, if you are nice, who knows…

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