VARIOUS: Sweet Inspiration (Ace)


The latest release in Ace’s acclaimed ‘Songwriter’ series focuses on the work of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. The pair, of course, will forever be remembered for their work at both Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studio and Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis. There Penn and Spooner wrote (and produced and played on) countless hits across all kinds of musical genres and on this wonderful 24 tracker compilers Bob Dunham and Tony Rounce reflect that breadth. Equally they’ve tried to include all the duo’s best known songs –but they’ve also dug out some lesser known versions of those biggies. So here, for instance, we get Dionne Warwick’s reading of ‘I’m Your Puppet’ rather than the James and Bobby Purify take. It’s a great and soulful version that stands comparison with the original. But as the sleeve notes indicate – just what was the original version? It seems that Penn himself had recorded the song in 1965… so, here and throughout the album, the anoraks will have a field day. The 24 tracker is peppered with all kinds of tantalising trivia that is the bread and butter of collectors.

Soul collectors will be delighted to have stuff like the Ovations’ ‘I’m Living Good’, James Carr’s ‘Let It Happen’, Joe Simon’s ‘Let’s Do It Over’, The Bluebelles’ ‘Dreamer’, Arthur Alexander’s ‘Cry Like A Baby’ and the Sweet Inspirations’ inspirational ‘Sweet Inspiration’ which Penn and Oldham wrote to order in a lunch break. Even the non-soul specific cuts (from people like Ronnie Millsap, Tommy Roe and Sandy Posey) have a huge authenticity, but it’s the soul cuts that provide the real highlights and as an example of simmering southern soul as an art form you couldn’t beat Arthur Conley’s ‘In The Same Old Way’. It’s perfect in its simplicity and maybe that was the Penn/Spooner secret. Ace are already planning a second volume on the duo – to include material they produced with other collaborators, but they’ll have to pull out all the stops to beat the quality of this set.

(BB) 4/5