It’s difficult to see why a voice as expressive and magnificently soul-stirring as that belonging to gospel-reared California singer Blinky Williams wasn’t promoted more by Motown Records during her six-year tenure with the company. She was with them between 1967 and 1973 but despite cutting a slew of tracks for Berry Gordy’s iconic label, most of them remained gathering dust in the company’s vaults. She did, of course, gain a fair degree of exposure via her moderately successful duets album, ‘Just We Two,’ with Edwin Starr in 1969 but her much-anticipated solo career never took off and only a handful of singles were released under her name. Now, though, the underappreciated and criminally overlooked Sondra Williams (that’s Blinky’s real name) gets her time in the sun thanks to the folks at the specialist archival label, Real Gone, who’ve exhumed a complete lost album (‘Sunny And Warm’) along with some rare live material and a plethora of unreleased sides which they’ve added to the clutch of released 45s from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
There are 46 tracks in all and they’re spread across the two CDs that make up ‘Heart Full Of Soul.’ The first disc begins with a dozen songs that comprised the unissued ‘Sunny And Warm’ album, opening with a superb ballad: the Ashford & Simpson-penned and produced ‘I Wouldn’t Change The Man He Is,’ which was released as Blinky’s debut single in 1968 but flopped. It demonstrates the soulful majesty of the singer’s voice. Other highlights from the shelved album include the poignant ‘Is There A Place (In His Heart For Me)’ – which shows off the singer’s sensual side – plus a bolero-style take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘For Once In My Life’; a revamp of Fontella Bass’s ‘Rescue Me’; and the Hal Davis-helmed I’ll Always Love You,’ also recorded by another Motown cult heroine, Brenda Holloway. The lost album is appended with sundry bonus cuts, including several released 45s: a revamp of Barrett Strong’s ‘Money (That’s What I Want),’ the Gil Askey-arranged ‘T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do’ (a jazz number plucked from her cameo on the movie soundtrack, Lady Sings The Blues), and the beautifully dreamy ‘You Get A Tangle In Your Lifeline,’ a soft-rock tune co-written and produced by Clay McMurray that was originally scheduled to appear on a shelved album called ‘Softly.’ Closing the first disc are three dynamic live tracks from a Motown Revue tour, which range from the stomping ‘Turn You Loose’ to a soulful rendition of Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless The Child,’ with is enlivened by a smattering of James Brown-style drama at the performance’s climax.
The compilation’s second CD is devoted to a cache of unreleased studio cuts (22 in all). Interestingly, Blinky puts her inimitable spin on several pop hits by British beat groups: namely The Yardbirds’ ‘Heart Full Of Soul,’ the Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ which is sensationally transformed into a gospel rave-up, and The Beatles’ psychedelic ballad, ‘The Fool On The Hill.’ The latter is much less suited to Blinky’s dramatic voice but she gives it her all. Much more impressive is a long, jazzy rendition of Stylistics ‘People Make The World Go Round,’ which is terrific while another early ’70s R&B hit, the Main Ingredient-associated ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely’ also gets a run out but eventually loses steam when it breaks down at the end. Other highlights include the passionate mid-tempo song, ‘You’re The Loser Now,’ the slinky groover, ‘I’m Just A Woman,’ the soulful ballad ‘Morning Light,’ and a slice of MOR sunshine pop called ‘Feel A Lot Better.’
Signing with Motown might have initially seemed like a dream come true for Blinky Williams though ultimately it turned into a bit of a nightmare, especially in terms of the disproportionate ratio between the amount of music she recorded and what Gordy’s rather blinkered label saw fit to release. But justice is finally done with this splendid anthology, which reveals that the Oakland-born singer was a versatile performer who could handle all kinds of different material. And she was soulful with a capital ‘S.’
‘Heart Full Of Soul – The Motown Anthology’ is available from November 11th.