Barbara Lewis is one of sweet soul’s greatest talents. Yet sadly she’s unknown to the mainstream and even some soul collectors are unaware of how wonderful her music is. They can now set things to rights with this wonderful 2 CD, 34 tracker that covers the lady’s period at Atlantic… the high watermark of her career.
Barbara was born in South Lyon, Michigan in 1943 and in her teens she began writing songs with Ollie McLaughlin (mentor of pop star Del Shannon). The budding writer/entrepreneur was also impressed by Barbara’s beguiling, unusual singing style and in March 1962 he took her into Chicago’s Chess studios to record a single which he released on his own Karen records (named after his eldest daughter). The single – ‘My Heart Went Do Dat Da’/’The Longest Night Of The Year’ – was a local hit, but more importantly impressed Atlantic execs who signed her to a deal that was to last till 1968. In those 6 years Lewis cut a slew of wonderful sweet soul songs – none more wonderful than the totally sublime ‘Hello Stanger’. The 1963 recording (which featured the Dells on backing vocals) was a huge American hit and its underground success on the UK mod scene turned the singer into a cult icon.
The magical ‘Hello Stranger’ is the standout on this collection (it would stand out on any soul collection of compilation) but equally excellent are ‘Think A Little sugar’, ‘If You Love Her’, ‘Someday We’re Gonna Love Again’ (a big UK hit for the Searchers cover version), ‘Baby I’m Yours’, ‘Make Me Your Baby’, ‘I Remember The Feeling’, ‘Thankful For What I Got’ and Barbara’s version of Deon Jackson’s’ ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’. (Jackson was one of McLaughlin’s stable of artists that also included the Capitols). Yes, it’s easy to say that the recordings are a touch lightweight… all mid sixties innocence and naivety, but they each have a beguiling charm that’s made quite intoxicating by the Lewis vocal while ‘Hello Stranger’ remains a classic that is regularly covered by others.
In 1969 Lewis moved to Stax but lack of success with a grittier sound led her to withdraw from the music biz. Now though she’s a regular on the Carolinas Beach Music scene while You Tube offers a wonderful clip of her performing on a Caribbean cruise ship. The song? What else… ‘Hello Stranger’ and, you know, it can still raise the old goose bumps! If that’s not proper soul music, I don’t know what is!