Bettye Swann – Complete Atlantic Recordings (review)

Bettye Swann – The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Real Gone Music / Rhino) review

Sides cut in Muscle Shoals and Philadelphia, plus six previously unreleased recordings make this disc indispensable to soul fans

Bettye Swann is best remembered for her hit “Make Me Yours,” a slice of soulful pleading from 1967.  She works her same magic on The Complete Atlantic Recordings, a collection of 23 tracks making their digital debut.

After recording for both Money & Capitol Records in the Sixties, Swann jumped over to the penultimate soul label, Atlantic Records in the early Seventies. The first few sessions were cut in Muscle Shoals at the FAME studios and these are fantastic.  There is such a real element to her voice – she sounds like the lyrics are coming directly from her heart.  “Victim of a Foolish Heart” was a minor hit, but that’s not even the best song here.  “Cold Day in Hell” is filled with emotion, while “Today I Started Loving You Again” shows off her ability to take a country song (in this case, from Merle Haggard) and drench it in soul.  Her ability to plead is shown in her excellent take on Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

Swann next headed to Philadelphia at the peak of the Philly Soul sound.  The four tracks included here are right up there with classics from the O’Jays, yet for some reason, they didn’t connect commercially.  “Time to Say Goodbye” with strings and light production is absolutely gorgeous.  Then, she returned once again to more earthy production for her final sessions for the label.  “All the Way In or All the Way Out” has a country soul feel that really suits her voice.

The best material here is some of the previously unreleased tracks, the highlight being a knock-out rendition of the Isley Brothers’ hit “This Old Heart of Mine.”  Here, she introduces the song in a spoken-word prelude before slowing the track way down, wringing every last word completely dry.  How this unbelievable recording was not released back in the day is a major crime.

She also turns in a funky take on the Elvis classic “Suspicious Minds.”  And, there’s a duet between her and Sam Dees on “Just as Sure.”

Sometimes archive releases like this are “bottom of the barrel” affairs, releasing material that should’ve stayed in the vaults.  That is not the case with The Complete Atlantic Recordings.  Any fan of classic soul music should grab this one.  It will certainly give you a better appreciation for just how talented Bettye Swann truly was.  —Tony Peters