Various Artists  “This Is Real! – Kent/Modern Deep Soul Treasures (2-CD set)  (Jap. P-Vine PCD-1875677)

By Pete Nickols

CD 1 – Billy Watkins ~ Just For You (Stone Fox); Beverly; Bobby John ~ I’m Coming Home; Sims Twins ~ Bring It On Home Where You Belong; Other Brothers ~ Nobody But Me; It’s Been A Long Time Baby; Vernon Garrett ~ If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time; Willie Gauff & The Love Brothers ~ Whenever I Can’t Sleep; Farewell; Freeman King ~ Georgia Woman; Jeanette Jones ~ Darling I’m Standing By You; Ruth Davis ~ I Need Money; Robert Ramsey ~ Like It Stands; Jackie Day ~ Oh! What Heartaches; Arthur & Mary ~ Let’s Get Together; Arthur Adams ~ You Make Me Cry; Z.Z. Hill ~ Nothing Takes The Place Of You; Johnny Adams ~ Don’t Wait Too Long; Your Kind Of Love; Jimmy Robins ~ It’s Real (Part 2); Danny Monday ~ Baby, Without You; Good Taste Of Love; Tami Young ~ Come Back Baby; Tommy Youngblood ~ Why Should I Be The One; Foxfire (feat. Johnny Adams) ~ Tramp.

CD 2 – Joe Haywood ~ The Last One To Know; I Wanna Love You; (Play Me) A Cornbread Song; Jeb Stuart ~ I Just Love Your Work; Can’t Count The Days; Earl Wright ~ I Don’t Know; Them Love Blues; Chuck Walker & The VIP’s with Bobby McVay ~ I’ll Be Standing By; Peace Of Mind; Wally Cox ~ This Man Wants You; Johnny Copeland ~ Love Attack; Ghetto Child; I Was Born To Love You; Dear Mother; Clay Hammond ~ I’m Gonna Be Sweeter; I’ll Make It Up To You; Yvonne Baker ~ A Woman Needs A Man; My Baby Needs Me; Millie Foster ~  Fill My Needs; Angels Of Joy ~ Mr. President; Jackie Shane ~ You Are My Sunshine; Stand Up Straight And Tall; Little Richard ~ Don’t You Know!

The P-Vine label for me conjures up memories of expensive hard-to-come-by imported 70’s and 80’s LPs containing lots of never before reissued soul tracks. It’s nice to know that, in this digital age, P-Vine still exists, still puts out occasional ‘real soul’ CDs, like this two-disc set, and still offers completely unreadable sleeve-notes (unless you happen to be of Nippon extraction). As always, P-Vine releases are pressed in only limited numbers for quite a short space of time, so I’m not able to guarantee the ready availability of this set even by the time you read this review but hopefully you can come by a copy from somewhere - mine came from the ever-reliable Dave Porter’s Vivid Sound (UK) concern (see Links) - but I’m sure even Dave can only get limited supplies which will doubtless soon sell out.

Anyway, for hardcore soul CD collectors who can’t get hold of a copy, it might at least be something of a consolation to know that the vast majority of the 48 tracks on offer here have been reissued by UK Ace/Kent before, albeit on a plethora of different Modern/Kent-related compilations and solo-artist releases. I’m sure my own CD collection is not 100 per cent complete in this respect but the only tracks on here which I do not already have on a UK Ace/Kent CD somewhere are those by Z.Z. Hill, Foxfire, Chuck Walker & The VIP’s, Little Richard and Joe Haywood’s “(Play Me) A Cornbread Song”. So, whilst it’s true that I have most of the stuff already, at least it’s nice to have it ‘all in one place’ and not to have to go searching the CD racks.

And so to the music. Well, these are supposed to be “Deep Soul Treasures” and a few undeniably are but it’s doubtful that Kent/Modern ever put out as many as 48 deep-soul classics in its long and distinguished existence thanks to the multitude of different soul, blues and R&B styles which it favoured, even in the 60’s and 70’s. But let’s not get petty – there are indeed some genuinely deep soul gems here, plus some less impressive examples – and, unfortunately, also quite a lot of straight-ahead pop-soul and ‘northern’ soul tracks too.

CD2 is much better than CD1 and on CD1 things certainly don’t start well at all. It’s Track 8 before we even enter deep-soul territory and by then one is wondering if this package can ever actually deliver what it says ‘on the tin’. In truth, it does so only spasmodically.

At the top of the heap have to come the real quality soul singers like Joe Haywood, Johnny Copeland, Clay Hammond and Z.Z. Hill. It would seem that the great Johnny Adams is on here too but I am advised by Sir Shambling this is in fact a certain John E. Adams and not the Tan Canary from New Orleans. The singer's rather unimpressive outings here would tend to confirm this.

Haywood’s offerings are pretty impressive though, from the slow waltz-time deep ballad “The Last One (To Know)” through the melodic pleader “I Wanna Love You” to the potent, driving southern funk of “...Cornbread Song” (albeit this third track is far from ‘deep’).

Bluesman Johnny Copeland’s excellent ability to also sing meanuingful soul music has long been rightly revered and I reviewed his very fine 2-CD retrospective UK Kent set for this web-site here.  Few artists would have dared to ‘cover’ a stone deep-soul classic like James Carr’s “Love Attack” but Copeland doesn’t so much attempt a cover as a re-working to suit his own more gravely but still very expressive pipes. It’s still emotive and deep though, whilst his “Ghetto Child” is like “House Of The Rising Sun” turned into the deepest bluesoul. Conversely, Johnny’s “I Was Born To Love You” is simply a bouncy ‘northern’ soul sound which should have been omitted. However, “Dear Mother” quickly returns us to the highest standards of deep-soul – this is probably the deepest of all the tracks on offer here, with Johnny in stunning form.

Clay Hammond’s “I’m Gonna Be Sweeter” is an unexceptional slow-to-mid pacer (something of a ‘pretty’ song). We do, however, get the real deep ‘McCoy’ from Clay on the gorgeous slow, love-promise song, “I’ll Make It Up To You”, Hammond using some goose-bump-inducing falsetto on the title phrase and both assertive and emotive vocals elsewhere.

Z.Z. Hill’s version of Toussaint McCall’s classic hit “Nothing Takes The Place Of You” is just beautiful. So, OK, perhaps nothing could take the place of the atmospheric mystique of McCall’s rendition either, but Hill is nonetheless easily able to retain this special song’s quiet-fire beauty whilst instilling into it his own telling brand of blues-edged soulful story-telling.

Let’s stick with the good stuff while we can. There’s The Angels of Joy’s gospelly plea to “Mr. President”, a good example of how to turn a genuine message song also into a deep piece of soul music.

Then there’s Little Richard who offers up a superb slab of deep-soul with his “Don’t You Know!”, complete with a second-lead vocal seemingly also provided by Mr Penniman. This is one to rival his other limited but impressive forays into deep-soul territory, like “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got” and “In The Middle Of The Night”. I’m not aware of this 1973 Kent track having been ‘CDed’ before, so it’s a very welcome inclusion here.

A wandering trombone and simmering organ introduce Jimmy Robins as he shows off his fine baritone on the truly deep performance “It’s Real (Part 2)”’. Even when rapping, as he does quite a bit here, Robins sounds like a preacher transported to deep soul heaven.

Then there’s the mournful, deep, super-slow bluesoul of Tommy Youngblood’s “Why Should I Be The One”. A telling performance, this.

Meanwhile, Willie Gauff and his chums serve up some nice emotional drama on  “Whenever I Can’t Sleep” and the gospelly “Farewell”, with its very minimal guitar-dominated musical backdrop.

Chuck Walker/Bobby McVay’s “I’ll Be Standing By” has what I think of as a real small-label sound to it – the musical accompaniment is a tad on the rough side, with the gruff lead vocal becoming ultimately suitably unbridled – all really just what hardened deep fans enjoy! However, the band’s other offering, “Peace Of Mind”, begins at a very slow tempo and is just too ‘straight’ to be deep. I could live without the wandering flute too. Then its tempo changes to a bouncier rhythm but even the arrival of the girl back-up chorus doesn’t really lift the piece out of the ‘ordinary’ bracket.

That just about raps up the only truly deep performances on this set; however there are a few ‘runners up’ worthy of note.

Billy Watkins has a fine tenor voice capable of impressive assertive singing which can clearly switch effortlessly to a telling falsetto. “Just For You (Stone Fox)” starts off as a bouncy item but the slower gospelly mid-track tempo-change allows Billy to really show off his emotive mettle. Sadly, his other track here, “Beverly”, is just pacy pop-soul.

Jeanette Jones clearly has a powerful gospel-honed voice and it’s her expressive way with the lyrics which make an otherwise unimpressive slow-to-mid-pacer like “Darling I’m Standing By You” worth a listen. She really lets go near the track-end too - I’d love to hear her on a genuine wrist-slashing weepie - but sadly this isn’t it.

Freeman King’s “Georgia Girl” is just a gorgeous recording. I wouldn’t call it truly deep but simply melodic storyline country-soul of a high order.

Robert Ramsey’s “Like It Stands” (first issued on his own Hot 100 label) also isn’t that deep but it has a lovely compelling lilting, rolling rhythm, complete with some fine brass and femme back-up and I’ve always enjoyed the record immensely. Robert cuts loose with a few impressive screams here and there too. This is a performance that just ‘gets inside you’.

Jackie Shane’s well-sung, never-let-up, foot-tapping version of that old warhorse “You Are My Sunshine” is certainly a good listen (love the organ break) but again it’s certainly not ‘deep’. The same singer’s “Stand Up Straight And Tall” is also organ-propelled. This is quality mid-paced bluesoul with the accent perhaps on the blues element.

Arthur (Adams) & Mary (Love)’s “Let’s Get Together” starts out as little more than a rather coy ‘boy and girl’ pop-soul love-duet but once we get to mid-track both singers start to cut loose, the song becoming much deeper in style and all the better for it. Arthur’s solo offering “You Make Me Cry” is a jaunty mid-pacer with the musical backdrop being far too MOR to complement the soul that’s clearly in Arthur’s voice and in those of the back-up girls too. A shame.

The gravely-voiced Jeb Stuart’s opener “I Just Love Your Work” is a pacy semi-commercial outing and hardly deep, while his “Can’t Count The Days” is a well interpreted fine melodic lilter. (Both sides originally shared a Climax 45).

Earl Wright’s offerings are not deep but I especially enjoy his driving, funky “Them Love Blues”, although it only reaches its zenith when the fuller horn-led arrangement is brought into play from mid-track on.

Yvonne Baker has a rather light and not particularly expressive voice but there’s no denying that her “A Woman Needs A Man” has all the right trimmings for a deep winner in respect of its plodding tempo, lyric, and musical and vocal accompaniment. Unfortunately, her “My Baby Needs Me” takes us back to mid-paced pop-soul and, whilst pleasant of its kind, it really has no place on this CD.

Millie Foster has an even lighter and more ‘girly’ voice than Yvonne Baker and one can only imagine what her “Fill My Needs” would have been like in the hands of some tough but expressive female vocalist like, for example, Jean Stanback.

Bobby John offers up a melancholy slow-to-mid-pacer in “I’m Coming Home” which suffers only from the lead vocal being a tad too far back in the mix.

Vernon Garrett’s “If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time” is a pacy northern favourite – Vernon is a fine singer and can sing ‘deep’ when called on – but not here.

Likewise, the usually reliable Sims Twins’ “Bring It On Home Where You Belong” is a well-enough sung, catchy mid-pacer but there’s no real deep-soul in evidence.

Wally Cox’s offering is also simply a piece of pacy ‘northern soul’, while The Other Brothers’ “It’s Been A Long Time Baby” is the sort of popish item that could easily have tempted a British Mersey Sound group to cut a cover.

Also far from deep is the Other Brothers’ second offering, ”Nobody But Me”, Ruth Davis’ “I Need Money”, Jackie Day’s “Oh What Hearaches”, Danny Monday’s two pop-soul items “Baby Without You” and “Good Taste Of Love” and Tami Young’s “Come Back Baby”.

What some of these tracks are doing on this CD is one of life’s great mysteries and please don’t even mention Foxfire’s 1971 version of “Tramp”, included here complete with its proto-disco-wah-wah rhythms.

So, this CD reminds me of Longfellow’s little girl with the curl who, when she was good was very very good but when she was bad she was horrid. Horrid may be too strong a word (except for the Foxfire track) but even the acceptable mid-pacers included here should really have been omitted and one feels a really good ‘on topic’ Kent/Modern deep release could easily have been achieved merely on a single disc.


November 2013