Ever-dependable Ace Records have just released two excellent retrospectives on two of soul’s leading ladies – DENISE LASALLE and MILLIE JACKSON.

Released (fittingly) on their Westbound imprint, ‘Making A Good Thing Better’ is a collection of DENISE LASALLE’S original Westbound singles. Recorded between 1970 -76, the 26 tracker is a master class in Southern soul. Yes, we know that DENISE (born ORA DENISE ALLEN) hailed from Chicago and that Westbound was a Detroit label, but most of her work was recorded down in Memphis – at WILLIE MITCHELL’S Royal Studios. After an unsuccessful stint at Chess and some failed singles on her own labels, DENISE went down to Memphis to record the raunchy ‘Hung Up Strung Up’ which, in 1970, she managed to license to ARMEN BOLADIN of Westbound Records. The song, sadly, flopped chart-wise but BOLADIN decided to persevere. Wisely – since DENISE’S next recording – the career defining ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’ went right to no. 1 on the R&B chart and went on to hit the pop top twenty!

That special song (a blueprint for 70’s Southern femme soul) is the centrepiece here but there are plenty more excellent recordings. If you want a classic cheating song try the quite lovely ‘Married But Not To Each Other’, while 1975’s ‘Here I Am Again’ is a fabulous, tight modern soul style dancer. Ballads? Well, ‘Trying To Forget’ and ‘Heartbreaker Of The Year’ are both sumptuous.

We’re told that, aged 73, DENISE is still working (her last album was on Malaco) but if you want to hear the lady at her peak, this is the collection for you.

mThere have been any number of MILLIE JACKSON compilations – most culled from the 20 albums she made for Spring Records in the 70s but most focus on the well-known numbers, the up-tempo and the famous rap/monologue tracks. The new Ace/Kent collection – ‘The Moods Of Millie Jackson’ – is a tad different. The 20 tracker focuses on her more intimate side. It brings together a whole clutch of (mainly) long-forgotten ballads from her many Spring long players. The two best-known items on the set are ‘It Hurts So Good’ and ‘If Loving You Is Wrong’ – and they remain classics but items like ‘Solitary Love Affair’, SAM DEES’ ‘Special Occasion’ and BANKS and MITCHELL’S ‘From Her Arms To Mine’ are outstanding too. Check out too a great version of BOBBY WOMACK’S ‘I’m Through Trying To Prove My Love To You’. .. pain never sounded better.

DENISE LASALLE’S ‘Making A Good Thing Better ‘(Westbound) and MILLIE JACKSON’S ‘The Moods Of’ (Kent) are out now.