BARRETT STRONG ET AL: Detroit Soul (Jasmine)

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Over the years, budget reissue label Jasmine has  done a great job for early/embryonic soul collectors and amongst their new releases is a fine compilation of (mostly) early Motown recordings – all pre 1963 because of licensing issues – that will excite said “collectors”.

The marquee name on the generous 30 tracker is Barrett Strong, though there are contributions from other early Motown male artists – Chico Leverett, Singin’ Sammy Ward, Herman Griffin, Henry Lumpkin, Gino Parks and Andre Williams.

Strong, who’ll you’ll remember, died in January, gets 14 tracks on this album and, naturally, ‘Money’ is  the main focus. Barrett was only 19 when he recorded it and it went on to become Motown’s first substantial hit  – and the royalties enabled Berry Gordy to start to grow his fledgling empire. As important is the fact that the song was covered by the Beatles and that endorsement of the song and their general espousal of Motown played no little part in broadening Motown’s profile. The A an B sides of Strong’s first 6 singles (including ‘Money’) are included, along with both sides of a single he recorded for Atco (‘Seven Sins’/’What Went Wrong’) after  he quit Motown.

The success of ‘Money’ encouraged Berry Gordy and his talent scouts to seek out  more male vocalists cut from a similar rough-hewn cloth as Barrett Strong – a task that   became more important after Strong quit the label.  So, Chico Leverett (2 tracks here), Singin’ Sammy Ward (5 tracks), Herman Griffin (2 tracks),  Henry Lumpkin (2 tracks), Gino Parks (4 tracks)and Andre Williams (1 track) all stepped up to the Motown plate but never managed to emulate Strong’s achievements.

Nevertheless, their music (songs  written by people like Gordy, Smokey Robinson and Mickey Stevenson) is important in the evolution of Motown. It shows a label searching for a sound and an identity. You’ll hear all kinds of everything here… authentic R&B, doo-wop, novelty songs, rock n’ roll and occasionally a hint of what  was to become the “classic” Motown sound.

(BB) 4/5