Various Artists: Groove & Grind – Rare Soul ‘63-’73

Various_GrooveAndGrindRareSoulAstonishing collection of rare soul singles

Those who miss the tactile pleasure of holding an album cover, or even reading the relatively microscopic copy of CD booklets, are likely to break out in a wide smile when they first heft this collection. The four discs are housed in a hard-bound 127-page book that’s stuffed with striking artist photos, label reproductions and detailed song notes by author and journalist Bill Dahl. And all of that is in service of an expertly-curated collection of rare soul sides that stretch from 1963 through 1973. Collections of this magnitude can be as exhausting as they are exhilarating, but by gathering singles from a variety of labels, and organizing them into four themed discs, the programs flow more like a crowd-pleasing jukebox than the well-curated anthology at the set’s heart. Even better, by mating obscurity with quality, every track becomes both a surprise and a delight.

These discs are stuffed, clocking in at nearly five hours of music. Disc 1 surveys urban soul from the major markets of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles. Disc 2 focuses on vocal groups, disc 3 on southern soul, and disc 4 on funkier sounds. The roster mixes well-known and obscure artists, but even in the case of famous names, the sides are not likely the ones you know. Betty LaVette’s “Almost,” Ike & Tina’s “You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had,” Kenny Gamble’s “Hard to Find the Right Girl,” Candi Staton’s “Now You’ve Got the Upper Hand,” Betty Wright’s “Mr. Lucky,” Eddie Floyd’s “Hey Now,” Carla Thomas’ “Every Ounce of Strength,” and Margie Joseph’s “Show Me” all suffered the same lack of circulation and chart renown as their more obscure set-mates. Even the familiar “Love on a Two-Way Street” is rendered here in the obscure Lezli Valentine All Platinum B-side that marked the song’s debut.

Finding these singles is impressive, but documenting them in such detail is a task only the most devoted fans would undertake. The material came from the collections of rare-records dealer Victor Pearlin, musician Billy Vera and the set’s producer James Austin; the audio restoration was performed by Jerry Peterson. The results are good, though the original productions weren’t often as refined as those from Stax, Atlantic or Motown. There’s occasional vinyl patina, but that’s part of the show when you dig this deep, and it never gets in the way of the songs or performances. This anthology is a tremendous gift to the crate diggers of soul music, filling in gaps they didn’t even realize were in their collections. Casual fans will dig these sides as well, even without dirt-laden fingertips from a thousand record swaps, back rooms and thrift store racks. [©2015 Hyperbolium]