VARIOUS: Northern Soul 2024 (Wienerworld)

Ian Levine has often been described as “the Marmite Man of Northern soul“. It seems he’s loved and loathed in equal measure and his latest project will be similarly loved and loathed; it all  depends of your view of Mr L and his perception of what makes Northern soul.

In association with specialist, niche label Wienerworld, Ian has just released this various artists Northern soul compilation. There are 24 new(ish) tracks which the accompanying PR says, “capture the essence of classic Northen soul of the 60s and 70s” and again, depending on your stance, you will either agree or dispute that assertion.

The collection kicks off with a proper scene setter – ‘Moving At The Go-Go’ from veteran girl group The Flirtations. It’s a brand new song written by Ian Levine with the three group members – sisters Earnestine and Shirly Pearce and Viola Billups and it really does recall the great days of the scene by combing that danceable, light soulfulness with a lyric that name checks almost every dance craze you can think of! The Flirtations deliver another album track, the equally pacey ‘Queen On A Throne’ while Earnestine steps out on her own to front ‘Eyes On The Target’

Many of the other featured artists are, like the Flirtations, respected veterans of the soul scene (Northern or otherwise). Thus fans can enjoy new material from people like ‘Lost Summer Love’ girl, Lorraine Silver,  Motown/Ric Tic/Golden Word legend Pat Lewis, Light Of The World’s Nat Augustin, hit-maker Jimmy Helms, Edwin Starr’s brother Angelo, sometime Drifter Richie Sampson and the incomparable  Sidney Barnes.

Amongst the less-known names are Elliot Zimmerman, Sharan McMahan, Jennifer Dee and vocal group The Concentrations. Whether the artist is a “name” or not, it doesn’t matter. They throw themselves in to the music with gusto  to deliver upbeat optimism on a set of songs that are all original Levine songs (some co-authored) except for three. The three “cuckoos in the nest” are ‘Luckie’ and ‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’ from Venicia Wilson and Nat Augustin’s ‘Whenever You Need Someone’. The first of those Ms Wilson songs is an old Laura Nyro tune which is obvious  from its sweet, jaunty gait  while Motown fans will know that ‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’ is a Jobette number best known in versions by the Contours and The Four Tops. The  Nat Augustin offering was originally recorded in 1991 by Bad Boys Inc. It was co-authored by Nightcrawler soul man John  Reid who’s worked with Ian Levine countless times and the song’s inclusion here fits perfectly.

The other cuckoo in the nest is ‘Another Lonely Christmas In the Motor City’ from Angelo Starr. Christmas as Spring and Summer beckon! Odd and “odd” is an adjective that the Levine nay sayers and Northern purists might apply to the  whole collection. In honesty, though, the music does capture the vibe of the poppier end of what was accepted as “Northern” – and is there anything wrong with that? In many ways, the album reminds me of Ian’s old Motor City albums. If you remember they were derided by many on original release; now they’re respected and hugely collectable. Just shows!!!

(BB) 3/5

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