As part of Expansion’s 25th anniversary activities, head man, Ralph Tee has taken the time to compile this splendid 2CD, 30 track celebration of the sumptuous soul music which so entranced him from the mid 70s to the early 80s. The set contains a few old favourites but there’s also plenty of rarer items – and some stuff that is new to CD. Equally – as is the Expansion way – lesser known artists rub shoulders with bigger names and in proper soul circles none come bigger than David Ruffin. The set boasts a track from the great man’s hard to find Warner Bros album ‘Gentleman Ruffin’ and it’s the brilliant mid-paced ‘I Wanna Be With You’. Ruffin is in great form …it’s as if duettist, Laverna Mason, somehow manages to get him to go that extra vocal mile. Other “names” include Phyllis Hyman, Nancy Wilson, Keni Burke, Major Harris, Lenny Williams, Ben E King, the Gap Band, Earth Wind and Fire and Eloise Laws. The EWF contribution is their 1979 recording ‘Diana’ – which was only ever released in 2004 while Ms. Laws offers the lovely ‘I’m Just Warming’ Up’ which unashamedly rips off the catchy opening riff of the Real Thing’s ‘Can’t Get By Without You’ .
Featured lesser known artists include Charles Veal, Splendor, Brick, Pages and Ndugu Chancellor who comes from behind the drum riser to offer the sultry vocal, ‘Take Some Time’. Elsewhere, and making the album essential, there’s music from Rene and Angela, Paulette McWilliams, Noel Pointer, Maxi Anderson, Johnny Mathis, Betty Everett, Major Harris, Lilo Thomas, Linda Clifford and more.
In his thoughtful sleeve notes Ralph makes clear his enthusiasm for new music, but he’s equally clear that the period in focus on the set was a golden age – when major labels were prepared to invest in excellence. He also makes some very valid points about illegal file sharing. It’s just a pity that the colours chosen for the artwork and the type face make it all so hard to read – of course, though, that doesn’t make the music any less splendid.