various artists Soul Sides Volume One
It stands to reason that the phenomenon of mp3 blogging would sooner or later result in related official (read "legally licensed") releases. After all, most sites have only enough bandwidth to keep tracks available for a week or two, and dedicated downloaders wind up with a hard drive full of mercilessly compressed audio. This brick-and-mortar outgrowth of journalist/DJ Oliver Wang's similarly titled site (www.soul-sides.com) isn't the first project of its kind--the indie/electronica-centric Music for Robots issued a limited-edition compilation last year--but this early entry sets a high standard for those to come.
Online, Wang posts as much hip hop as anything else, but as the title suggests, this disc is dedicated to dusting off neglected soul gems, mostly of late-'60s/early-'70s vintage. With several tracks in print on single-artist collections ("I Forgot to Be Your Lover," by Stax stalwart William Bell) or other comps (Lee Moses's "Time and Place"), his criteria of inclusion isn't so much bottom-of-the-crate one-upsmanship as musical merit. Wang has a soft spot for songs that exist in better-known versions: Erma Franklin's pre-Janis "Piece of My Heart," Donny Hathaway's post-Lennon "Jealous Guy." The hook of "What a Man" resurfaced on Salt-N-Pepa/En Vogue's 1993 summit meeting; the 1968 original boasts a powerful, organic groove and the forceful voice of Linda Lyndell, who cut just two singles before dropping off the musical map.
Soul Sides also draws attention to career artists with deep, underappreciated catalogs. Amanda Ambrose, who has recorded in a range of jazz and blues contexts since the late '50s, nails the well-constructed pop-soul outing, "I Ain't Singing (No More Sad Songs)" with her piercing, slightly dry delivery. And then there's "Latin Funk Brother" Joe Battan, whose 1967 "Ordinary Guy" combines heartbreak and identity politics: "I'm just an Afro-Filipino/average sort of guy/who you left behind." (The salsa break and far-out organ solo don't hurt, either.) For many listeners, these tracks will be major discoveries, and even those familiar with the field can do as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' 2005 disc-closer advises and "fall in love all over again."
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