THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH: ‘Nothing But The Truth’ (Ace/Kent)

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                      Sounding like a musical marriage between Sly & The Family Stone  and the Fifth Dimension while under the influence of  LSD, The Undisputed Truth was a Motown vocal trio created by producer Norman Whitfield who used his protégés (Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce) principally  as a vehicle for his sonic experiments in the early 1970s. The group’s biggest hit by a mile was 1971’s ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes,’ a dramatically-orchestrated paean to paranoia and hypocrisy penned by Whitfield and Barrett Strong, that struck a chord with the US public, and made #2 in R&B charts. It was the killer cut on the band’s self-titled debut album, which is released in full for the first time along with their third (1973’s ‘Law Of The Land’) and fourth (1974’s ‘Down To Earth’) albums on this 2-CD compilation.  

One of the problems, perhaps, with The Undisputed Truth – and the main reason behind them not being massively successful – was the fact that they weren’t that high in the pecking order at Motown, despite being Whitfield’s pet group. As a result, they also got other Motown acts’ leftovers to recycle – ironically, ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’ was cut first by The Temptations, and they also covered that same vocal quintet’s ‘Ball of Confusion’ (though they expanded it far beyond the original) plus Gladys Knight’s/Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine.’ Whitfield also has them singing covers of ‘California Soul,’ ‘Aquarius,’ and even Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’

A similar mindset characterises the other two albums here, where more Temptations’ songs get re-jigged (among them ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,’ which lifts the bass line from Donny Hathaway’s ‘The Ghetto,’ and ‘Just My Imagination’) on ‘Law Of The Land.’ These are interspersed with passable but unremarkable covers, including Al Green (‘Love & Happiness’), Roberta Flack (‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’) and The Beatles’ (‘With A Little Help From My Friends,’ based on Joe Cocker’s version).  But there are some great moments – particularly on some of the Whitfield originals with their cinematic orchestrations – but the ‘Law Of The Land’ set is patchy, as is ‘Down To Earth,’ which is arguably the weaker of the three albums.  Among the six bonus tracks are 45 edits of ‘What It Is’ and ‘You Make Your Own Heaven & Hell Right Here On Earth,’ both of which appeared in longer form on the trio’s second album, 1972’s ‘Face To Face With The Truth,’ which is not included here.   

(CW) 3/5