By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
There might be no stranger ally to long-forgotten African American soul singers from the '60s and '70s than a white, bespectacled, Esperanto-speaking, vegan anarchist atheist who followed the ancient tenets of India's Jain religion and believed that 45s carried messages of the heaviest spiritual import. But there was no stronger ally either. In the late '60s, Dave Godin began tirelessly championing American soul music in his native England, and in the decades hence, the Brits have reintroduced us to our own long-estranged soul sides. That crucial work appears to be at an end, though, as the release of the long-anticipated Volume 4 of Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures bears with it the sad news that the journalist and record compiler died of cancer on October 15 of this year.
Godin's enthusiasm for African American soul music started when the genre was still in its nascent form. His scholarly writing for Blues & Soul magazine hepped record buyers to the newest in American sounds, and his championing of early Tamla-Motown releases led to the opening of the giant label's U.K. branch. At Soul City, the record shop he co-owned in Deptford (it later moved to Covent Garden), Godin noticed that the mod scene in northern England continued to seek out the roughest and rarest soul 45s, far beyond what was popular in the U.S. Godin labeled a select section of his store "northern soul," trafficking in increasingly hard-to-find sides. To this day, northern soul remains a vestigial scene in England.
Godin also coined the term "deep soul," signifying a particular strain of American soul music that focuses on the dynamism of the vocal performance, and how that voice carries an emotional severity and lyrical complexity beyond the norms of standard pop music. Tackling no less than the vagaries of human nature in the quagmires of love, the Godin-assembled Deep Soul Treasures compilations convey emotions ranging from despair and despondency to lust, hysteria, confusion, and infinite sadness in every one of the 25 selections on each disc.
The "deep soul" musical bed is just as versatile, encompassing haunting doo-wop harmonies and church organ, the ubiquitous Motown sound (not to mention that of Stax, Hi, and Fame), and the lush orchestration of the '70s. Cuts are made by artists like Zerben R. Hicks & the Dynamics, Toussaint McCall, Betty Lavette, the Premiers--singers and groups nearly lost down the memory hole. And each selection is accompanied by relevant arcana: publicity glossies, handbills, spindle labels, whatever physical traces of these performers are still extant. When familiar names appear, such as Otis Redding, Etta James, or James Brown, the selections are more obscure, though no less compelling.
For Volume 4, Godin's illness is noticeable: Blurbs are shorter, less analytical, though still zealous. The selected tracks are more upbeat, almost defiant. Artists whom the deep soul devout regard as borderline saints reappear as if to say their goodbyes to Godin: Eddie and Ernie, Doris Duke, the Knight Brothers, Jaibi. But cuts more familiar to the The Big Chill set are represented this time around too, like the Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears" and Clarence Carter's "Slip Away," as well as a rare 1964 song from Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Just as in the past, Godin digs up the original versions of songs made into popular hits for others (generally white artists), like Bessie Banks's "Go Now" from Vol. 2, which was a Moody Blues hit. This time, we get Garnet Mimms's rollicking "My Baby" (covered by Janis Joplin) and the triumphant "Time Is on My Side," which was originally sung by Irma Thomas and later became the Rolling Stones' first hit.
Sandwiched in between the two is the comp's most stunning song: "It's So Hard to Break a Habit" by vocal group the Webs. Riding a backbeat that will make the Wax Poetics set tear up, lead singer Willie Cooper's innocuous emanations of "ooooh" and "la-la-la-la" evolve into heartrending cries. As he fails to piece together fragments of a lost love, the backing voices try to rectify the situation. In its microcosmic three minutes lies a universe of being and suffering. On such sides, these yearning voices--and now Godin's--live on.