Various Artists – Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63-’73 (review)

Various Artists – Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63-’73 (Rockbeat Records) review

If you call yourself a fan of soul music, you need to own this set

Rockbeat Records has just done the impossible with the release of Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63-’73 – they’ve assembled a 4-CD box set containing over 100 vintage soul songs – and almost every one of them is making its debut on CD. And, while you might think this is probably “bottom of the barrel” material, the exact opposite is true – prepare to be knocked out.

Each disc features a theme, with disc one starting with Urban Soul, focusing on music done in the large metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. Things get underway with the gritty guitar and vocals of Don Gardner’s “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo,” then shifts to the sophisticated soul of the Jelly Beans’ “I’m Hip to You.” Other highlights on this disc are the spine-chilling “Almost” by a very young Betty Lavette, a Sam-Cooke-inspired “Do You Know What Life is All About” from Hoagy Lands, and the original version of “Love on a Two-Way Street” from Lezli Valentine (later covered by the Moments). Not everything here is from unknown artists either – Ike & Tina Turner show up with “You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had,” while future Philly soul impresario Kenny Gamble is featured on “Hard to Find the Right Girl.”

Disc two titled Group Soul kicks off with the insistent “(Countdown) Here I Come” by the Tempos, and features a whole truckload of great vocal performances. The Temptations are the blueprint for several tracks like “A Memory Best Forgotten” by Sounds Four, and “I’m Not Strong Enough” by the Four Perfections, while “I’m in a World of Trouble” sounds like a lost Supremes’ track. The gorgeous “Forgive Me If I Cry” by Down to Earth recalls the glory days of Doo Wop, while “You’re Good Enough For Me” by the Versatiles features both Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr, who would go on to form the 5th Dimension.

Disc three gets gritty with Southern Soul, beginning with the Ray Charles’ homage “Don’t Turn Away” from Willy McDougal. We get tastes from a couple of the great soul ladies with Candi Staton’s very first recording, “Now You’ve Got the Upper Hand,” and the ominous “Mr. Lucky” from Betty Wright (here just 13 years old!). Other standouts include the grimey backing but seductive delivery of Pat Brown on “The Good Got to Suffer For the Bad,” while Billy Young talks his way through the beginning of “Still My Life Through.”

Disc four centers on Funky Soul and immediately sets the mood with “Pep” Brown asking “Can You Handle It”? Not surprising, a lot of these songs use James Brown as a template – with the fat bass of “Soul Walkin’” by Reggie Smith, while Billy Sha-Rae’s “Do It” features a whole lot of “good God” shouts. There’s also a fair amount of dances to try – from “Do the Dog Funk” by Isaac Clark to the unabashed “Do the Bobby Dunn” by Bobby Dunn.

The set comes housed in a hard-bound book, recalling the great box sets Rhino released in the Nineties. Bill Dahl somehow finds tidbits of information for every one of these hidden treasures, so the liner notes are full of great facts to explore as you listen.

Kudos to Rock Beat Records for releasing such a great collection. A box set like this is completely at odds with the portable/disposable, mp3-world we live in now. Yet, we all could use a return to the physical connection we used to have with our music. And besides, you appreciate these tracks so much more once you read about them.

This is the holy grail for soul music fans: even the most devout soul aficionado will find things that are missing from their collection. If you believe in the power of soul music, grab Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63-’73, and immerse yourself in five hours of the grittiest, funkiest, soul you’ve never heard. —Tony Peters