VARIOUS: Uptown Soul And Funk (Label: Super Bird)

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VARIOUS: Uptown Soul And Funk

It’s amazing how the reissue and collectors’ labels keep turning up rare and obscure soul music and this new 20 tracker from the Super Bird label contains plenty of both. The album focuses on the work of Nashville music biz hustler Ted Jarrett who worked for all kinds of labels and owned several of his own. His biggest claim to fame is possibly creating ‘You Can Make It If You Try’ for Gene Allison which he leased out to Vee Jay Records. In 1968 Jarrett set up Ref-O-Ree Records (his third or, possibly, fourth label) and this collection focuses on that label’s soul output. Recorded mostly in Nashville, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the sound of Ref-O-Ree would-be classic Southern soul, but in fact Jarrett tried for something a little different. His recordings often featured sweet strings lighter rhythms and intricate arrangements and harmonies – creating a more Uptown sound (hence the title of the album)… and that, maybe, explains why Jarrett and Ref-O-Ree were ultimately unsuccessful commercially… too Uptown for the South and perceived as too Down Home for the more sophisticated North. Be that as it may this collection contains some remarkable soul. Four which appealed to me instantly were ‘I Hear A Melody’ from a male group called Spice Of Life, Peggy Gaines’ ‘Just To Satisfy My Baby’, a version of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um’ by Freddie Waters and a revisiting of Jarrett’s own ‘You Can make It If You Try’ from Waters again. That first one is a little odd. Not perfect by any means, it has a naive, rustic appeal that reminds me of the Intruders or the Mad Lads. The Peggy Gaines song could be early Philly soul; the Mayfield song gets an altogether different treatment from Major Lance’s template; while the retread of ‘You Can Make It If You Try’ is really lovely and fans of Tyrone Davis should investigate. A duo called Eddie and Ernie offer a brace of rough funk tunes to keep the album’s titling appropriate while the nearest we get to classic Southern soul comes via Larry Birdsong. His ‘Tell Me The Truth’ and ‘I’d Like To Try It On One More Time’ have a Johnnie Taylor feel about them (one even includes a monologue). So, a more-than-interesting collection, this. My only criticism would be to take issue with the sleeve notes. Put together by complier Fred James, I found them hard to follow. Why is that when it comes to sleeve notes, so many budget reissue labels either chose people who know a lot about the music but can’t write decently or decent writers who know nothing about the music for the job? The Ace label sets the standard for how it should be done. If the music is worthy of reissue, it deserves decent accompaniments.
(BB) 3/5