Ray Charles: Come Rain or Come Shine

Doris Troy: Just One Look

The Sweet Inspirations: A Brand New Lover, Part 1

Howard Tate: She’s a Burgler

Daryl Hall and John Oates: She’s Gone

All from Atlantic Soul (Rhino Handmade, 2007)

When I first saw this boxset, my initial thought was, “isn’t ‘Atlantic Soul’ redundant”? It’s just that I’ve always associated Atlantic with soul and certainly, the history of the house that Ahmet built is very much tied into the history of soul itself, especially as Jerry Wexler shrewdly traveled from NYC down to cities like Memphis, Macon and Muscle Shoals to record Atlantic-signed artists.

The idea behind the boxset however is a foray into some of Atlantic’s lesser-known – but still important – songs that helped develop its rep as the other major soul label of the 1960s. People may note: “how lesser-known is a song like, say, ‘Just One Look’ or Aretha’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ (which appears on disc 3)”? Fair enough and to be candid, that was my first reaction too…but then I looked at the playlist and realized I wasn’t familiar with most of the songs (or even artists) on here.

Blue-eyed soulster Billy Vera wrote the liner notes (he recorded for Atlantic in the ’60s) and as you’d expect from Rhino Handmade, the packaging is ace (photos especially). Personally, while Vera takes a breezy, insiders’ approach to the liners, I did find it a bit light, at least compared to something as in-depth as Rob Bowman’s damn-near-encyclopedic notes for the Stax boxset. Then again, I’m into the minutiae and other readers may just want some quick context.

The five songs I plucked off this 4-CD set are not equally distributed; for whatever reason, I ended up gravitating to disc 1 and 4 much more than 2 and 3 (and here I thought, I really like the late ’60s!).

The Ray Charles begins the entire set, a lovely little ballad from 1959 (The Genius of Ray Charles album) that accentuates Charles’ gift for delivering a feeling that’s not always easy to name but once he gets you there, you want to hold onto it as long as possible.

The Doris Troy has long, long been a favorite of mine; one of the first 45s I ever bought, back around 1993 or ’94, was “Just One Look” and strangely, I hadn’t listened to it for a long time until recently and was reminded, “goddamn, this is a great song.” It’s astounding that this 1963 song was Troy’s only hit, despite a long, rich career as a back-up singer for everyone from the Warwick sisters to Rolling Stones. A stone-cold classic, even as a one hit wonder, “Just One Look” has the shine and groove that makes it one of the best songs Motown never recorded. Actually, forget that: it’s simply one of the best songs ever recorded.

When I picked the Sweet Inspirations’ song, I had no idea that Troy had actually been a member of the group’s previous incarnation: the Drinkard Singers, arguably one of the most storied set of back-up sessioners in soul history. Not only had Troy been a member, but so had Judy Clay, Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick, Estelle Brown and Cissy Houston. In fact, “Gotta Find Myself a Brand New Lover” was the last Sweet Inspirations song (from 1969) that featured Houston before she left for her own solo career. The electric piano is what grabbed me on this initially (I’m a sucker for it) but the way the song builds quickly with some powerful harmonies and the string arrangement was mesmerizing. The chorus on here is amazing.

At some point, I’ll have to get around to posting up this great Howard Tate 7″ I recently brought in but for now, just enjoy one of his solid hits in the ’70s, the Southern-flavored “She’s A Burglar.” I like how he says, “she broke into my mind” even though the actual imagery is some what perturbing. All in all, a very cool, slinky funk tune.

Lastly, we end with….well…Hall and Oates and maybe this is just nostalgia from my youth (though I never grew up with ’70s era Hall and Oates; it was all about the ’80s) but I also thought it’d be interesting to hear what Atlantic, in the mid 70s sounded like, especially with a group a lot of folks are familiar with but not necessarily this tune (though it was the group’s first major break-out hit).