Soul Sides Volume Two: The Covers
ast year's Soul Sides release was as fine a compilation of soul cuts as you could find. For the second volume of the series, DJ/scholar/blogger Oliver Wang has put together 14 cover versions. While the disc maintains a high level of quality, it also provides more uneven rewards than the first edition, owing in part to the nature of the cover songs. Most of these tracks stand up on their own, but a few of them serve more academic purposes compared to the originals.
The first half of the disc is loaded, revealing not only Wang's skill at uncovering unheard cuts, but also at turning them into a proper mix. The best stretch runs from Al Green's take on "I Want To Hold Your Hand" through Marcia Griffiths's version of Green's own "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." Sandwiched between those two numbers, Esther Phillips nails "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." Her take on Gil Scott-Heron's classic not only provides one of the disc's best moments, its challenging downturn increases the excitement of the two Green-related numbers, the contrasting feel of the songs enhancing the others.
The second half of the disc brings it down just a little, with a few of the covers sticking too close to the originals. Cold Grits does an instrumental take on "It's Your Thing" that sets a nice groove, but lacks distinction. If anything, it primarily highlights the strength of the song itself (as opposed to any typical performance of it). The following track, "Express Yourself" by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, marks the low point of the collection. The performance lacks the oomph of the memorable original, in part because the bass has been recorded with less punch, and a more hidden spot in the mix. El Michels Affair handles their instrumental "Walk on By" just fine, but they do nothing to offer insight or a fresh look at this classic, much-covered song. The mix's "bonus track," Laura Lee feels particularly superfluous as Volume One contained the original, and this version doesn't come close to matching it.
Soul Sides doesn't rely on obvious choices or a consistent classic soul sound. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra's take on "Che Che Cole" and Los Mozambiques steaming rendition of "Viva Tirado" mark shifts in sound that work well within the compilation. The disc's last official track, "Be Thankful for What You Got" by Donovan Carless, even throws a reggae number. These sorts of change-ups keep the compilation as surprising as it is fluid, and all three numbers are smart picks by Wang. With choices like these, the disc provides further lessons from Wang in both selection and organization, despite the few missteps.