VARIOUS ARTISTS: Divas Of Motown (Label: Universal)

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Released as part of the ongoing celebrations of Motown’s 50th anniversary – and to coincide with the imminent UK ‘Divas Of Motown’ tour starring Chris Clark, Brenda Holloway, Mable John, Thelma Houston, and erstwhile Supremes’ ladies, Sherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence – this 2-CD features 50 tracks by some of the most celebrated female singers to record for Berry Gordy’s famous record label. The mighty Supremes, of course, were Motown’s most famous and successful female group and the trio led by Diana Ross until 1969 are well represented here with a clutch of classics – ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love,’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love,’ ‘You Keep Me Hanging On,’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ and even a couple of post-Ross tracks, the gorgeous Stevie Wonder penned and produced ‘Bad Weather’ and ‘Nathan Jones.’ Given the Supremes’ phenomenal success it’s easy to forget that in the first half of the ’60s, they struggled to find a hit formula and played second fiddle to other – and undoubtedly much more soulful – girl groups, like The Marvelettes, The Velvelettes and Martha & The Vandellas, all of who are represented on this collection by their signature songs. In terms of female solo singers at Motown, Mary Wells was the label’s first star, hitting the big time with infectious Smokey Robinson-penned numbers like ‘My Guy’ and ‘You Beat Me To The Punch,’ both of which, of course, are featured here. Some of Diana Ross’s solo outings are included but the tunes that really catch the ear and add a bit of spice to the mix are by some of Motown’s cult divas: the lovely Brenda Holloway, Mable John, Barbara Randolph, Kim Weston, Carolyn Crawford and blue-eyed blonde bombshell, Chris Clark, all of whom struggled to find tangible and lasting chart success at Motown but whose music has inspired a cult following that keeps their names alive. Interestingly – and also rather bizarrely – the compilation closes with something of an anomaly: namely Thelma Houston’s gospel-fuelled rendering of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ which was never released on Motown. Produced by Jimmy Webb and taken from her ABC/Dunhill album, ‘Sunshower,’ it was recorded in 1969, two years before the Mississippi-born singer stepped through Motown’s front door. This glaring gaffe aside, ‘Divas Of Motown’ contains plenty of fine music that not only attests to the brilliance of Berry Gordy’s female roster but also to the amazing talents of the writers, musicians and producers at his disposal.
(CW) 4/5