Various Artist
" Soulsville Sings Hitsville "

Blues Wax Rating 5

Memphis Takes On The Motor City, (05/07/08)

Many decades later we get a CD from the southern and grittier side of Soul from Stax, covering Motown recorded during the 1960s and '70s. Fifteen tracks are included, two previously unreleased, and two that make their digital debut.

Margie Joseph does a cute, talking intro on the Supremes' mega hit "Stop In The Name Of Love," that goes through many stop and stutter transitions, at times a little disco-like, some Soul, some grit, alas it's too all encompassing and very confusing. David Porter tries Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why I Love You" and it's probably best you go to the original source. Now here's something special, as the Staple Singers do the Temps on "You've Got To Earn It," which is undeniably funky and fun and was recorded partly at Muscle Shoals and Ardent Studios, too. Calvin Scott tries to make like Marvin Gaye with "Can I Get A Witness," understandably Scott's vocal is no match for Gaye's, but the groove is neat and driving, yet I could do without the goofy background vocals. "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," made very famous by the Four Tops, is done instrumentally by the Mar-Keys and offers a lot of instrumentation of horn charts, which makes this track a little too weary and odd.

Isaac Hayes covers the Jackson Five's "Never Can Say Goodbye," which is somewhat a jazzy affair, with the typical slick Hayes arrangements and it all works nicely, albeit a very different take than the original. Billy Eckstine tackles Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" and even though it's produced by Isaac Hayes, it sounds too much like a Las Vegas lounge rendition. "Oh, Be My Love," originally written and sung by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles is performed by Barbara Lewis, who does little justice to this unmemorable tune. Booker T. & the MGs try the Supremes' "I Hear A Symphony" and they basically just waltz through it; so much for Soulsville Sings Hitsville as this is an instrumental. The previously unreleased and alternate take of Marvin Gaye's "Chained" is covered by Mavis Staples and is produced by Steve Cropper, and it's rightfully a very funky affair that really hums along with authority.

< Making its debut on CD is John Gary Williams covering the Four Tops' "Ask The Lonely," which is somewhat jazzy with a nice background sax solo and it's quite pretty. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," made very popular by Stevie Wonder, boils slowly by the latter-day Stax artist the Soul Children, which was recorded in 1972 and produced by Al Jackson. Singer/producer Frederick Knight tries to make like Diana Ross and the Supremes and gets a failing grade, as this track meanders on for far too long. Also making its digital debut is O.B. McClinton's take on Gladys Knight & the Pips' hit, "I Wish It Would Rain," countrified with pedal steel and just weird.

The final track, the smash hit "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, is performed here by the Bar-Kays, making its first appearance ever and it's about time as this track rocks and, unlike a lot of the songs on this CD, it's not overproduced and cluttered with too many strings, background vocalists, and horn charts. It's extremely raw, funky, very imaginative, with some great guitar work and it's a very fresh cover of Gaye's classic, making this, by far, the standout track on this disc.

Overall, I was not crazy about Soulsville Sings Hitsville as only two tracks jumped out at me, that being the Mavis Staples and the Bar-Kays tracks, both of which are previously unreleased. But just for the Bar-Kays cover of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," which clocks in at over ten minutes, makes this somewhat of a worthwhile purchase for your collection, as this Bar-Kays cover is that good!

Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: web site:

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