Soul Sides Volume One
he "Volume One" tag implies that this disc won't be the end-all soul mix, but a starting point, and that's a good way to take it. Music writer Oliver Wang pulls together 14 old (or at least old-fashioned) soul tracks from artists who the rest of us have largely ignored. The songs range from blue originals to true covers, and fit together largely by the fact that they're very, very good, and that Wang likes them.
Up-tempo numbers make up most of the disc's first half, but Charles May's piano and Annette May Thomas's voice ease us into the disc with a medium groove on "Keep My Baby Warm." I try not to choose my friends based on their musical tastes (and fortunately most of them don't either), but if you turned this song off my radio, I'd kick you out of the car without braking. Thomas makes a stand and a pledge, but the gospel-choir harmonies are the reward and the expression of that emotion.
The compilation might be the rare sort that deserves a track-by-track breakdown, but stopping to retrace bios, structures, etc., would dampen the enthusiasm that comes out. Soul Sides is bound to put you on a quest to track down more music from these artists, and that's what's going to stop your smiling (but not your bopping). Lee Moses, whose "Time and Place" uses bongos and blurting horns to stand out even here, remains more elusive than the one-armed killer and less-photographed than Thomas Pynchon. He seemed to make a brief appearance 40 years ago, cut at least one killer track, and then removed himself from history.
If the artists are mystery-enshrouded, some of the songs aren't. Wang includes a strong cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" by Donny Hathaway, and he cleverly sandwiches it between "Piece of My Heart" and "What a Man," neither of which, surprisingly is a cover. Janis Joplin made the former famous, and a staple among teens discovering classic rock, but Erma Franklin (Aretha's sister) did an original that lacks the vocal squelch, but outdoes the San Francisco wail of the cover. At one time Salt-N-Pepa owned "What a Man," but they had to spell out that "he keeps it on until the break of dawn." Linda Lyndell simply has it better.
Not everyone on here is an exceptional being. Joe Bataan, influential across genres coming from New York in the '70s, describes himself as an "Ordinary Guy." He means, obviously, that he's a typical "Afro-Filipino average sort of guy" who plays great Latin soul. From the South comes Stax's William Bell who admits "I Forgot to Be Your Lover," but remains himself not so forgettable. Two-plus minutes of pleading and explaining—he's the tool you want to boot, but hug instead. It might not be a good idea, but dang if it doesn't feel right.
Without selecting a true "classic," Oliver Wang manages to fill up 45 minutes with music that feels essential, if not to music historians than to soul-agitated fans. Here's hoping this disc is the first in a very long series.