various artists, MERCURY SOUL DIAMONDS, Buried Treasure (France) CDR
A sequel to the DECCA SOUL DIAMONDS album from the same label (reviewed here on 25 January 2014), MERCURY SOUL DIAMONDS follows the same strategy as the earlier volume: pick a wide variety of un-reissued soul 45’s that fell through the cracks when originally issued on a nationally distributed label, program them imaginatively as a hip vinyl DJ would do, provide informative liner notes written by someone who knows this stuff inside out and can tell us about the earlier and later singles by the artists as well as the careers and styles of their producers, and pretty much let the music speak for itself, which it does.
The material on offer here runs, I’d guess, from about 1965-1973, with most coming from the 60’s. Going back to the 1940’s, Mercury always featured Black artists in any number of styles, so their venture into Soul in the 1960’s should come as no surprise. They had great success with Jerry Butler and Gene Chandler, they had an entire label (Blue Rock) devoted to soul, and even their Smash subsidiary featured an occasional soul 45 here and there…AND Mercury continued to be a major soul label well into the late 1970’s, although my own tastes tend to lean toward pre-1974 material. Unlike Decca, Mercury truly DID know what it was doing in this genre of music, and using the logic of “release 100 45’s and you are more likely to get five or ten hits than if you release 10 45’s,” this MERCURY SOUL DIAMONDS album presents a ladle full of rich Soul 45’s from the deep pot of stew which is the “other” 90 % of Mercury soul singles, the non-hits.
Headquartered in Chicago, Mercury was tuned into that city’s rich soul tradition, but wisely they also licensed in material from all over and had relationships with producers in many other soul-rich cities, so you get material here from Memphis, Georgia, Texas, New York, Washington DC, and Nashville, as well as the Windy City, and also there is a wide variety of styles represented here: little-known singles from well-known producers such as Bobby Robinson and Huey Meaux sit alongside Sun recording artist Junior Parker, who was recording in Memphis with producer Bowlegs Miller, and into that mix we add the uptown production style of Jerry Ragavoy working with vocalist Carl Hall…and Margie Hendrix who came out of the Ray Charles orbit, James Crawford who came out of the James Brown orbit, and Billy Young who was actually produced by Otis Redding himself. Also, some artists moved to Mercury after success on other labels: Joe Tex came from Dial to Mercury, and William Bell from Stax to Mercury (Bell’s albums on Mercury are well worth picking up…you could get them quite cheap at one time). Even Dee Dee Warwick, whom sister Dionne has referred to as “the REAL singer in the family” and who sounds great on ANY label, is here.
So just imagine all that (and many other lesser-known artists I did not mention) programmed for maximum effect and for a good variety in tempo and production style, 20 big tracks. Vintage soul 45’s are expensive nowadays, so for those of us who salivate at the thought of a stack of top-shelf but little-known Soul 45’s from the Golden Age, this collection is a dream come true.
I can think about 10 other nationally distributed 60’s labels that should get the “Soul Diamonds” treatment and whose 60’s soul singles have not yet been reissued in any organized manner, so let’s hope that the Decca and Mercury volumes have sold enough to get the folks behind the series to continue it. Actually, the liner notes from the Decca volume hinted at future volumes, so I’m ready…
Just imagine you’ve taken a trip back in time to the mid-late 60’s and you’ve managed to catch some low-wattage soul radio station that’s broadcasting all night long and the DJ is tired of playing just the hits and is taking some chances by playing at 3 a.m. all kinds of 45’s he likes in hopes of giving them some promotion…
So much good material was being recorded then by so many talented artists with the support of fine songwriters and savvy producers, and these records were being made all over the United States. It’s a proud and important part of American cultural history, but beyond that, it’s great listening. Don’t hesitate in scoring a copy of MERCURY SOUL DIAMONDS as soon as possible. It’s available from Crystal Ball Records in North America and from various European soul suppliers…
01. Stop And Think – James Crawford
02. If I Had Your Love – Junior Parker
03. I’m Leaving (This Old Town) – Jimmy Norman
04. In My Heart – Peaches
05. Tried To Please You – Knight Brothers
06. My Everything You Are – Mark IV
07. Baby – Margie Hendrix
08. Someone To Love – Ricky Lewis
09. Ain’t Going Back – Carl Stewart
10. Laid Back And Easy – Obrey Wilson
11. I’m Gonna Be A Winner – Willie Charles Gray
12. Don’t Make Me Get Another Man – Gloria Buschell
13. Don’t Blame Me – Willie Hightower
14. Come Back Home – Checkers
15. Nothing’s Too Much – Billy Young
16. What’s Come Over You – Carl Hall
17. I Wake Up Crying – William Bell
18. When Love Slips Away – Dee Dee Warwick
19. Let’s Go Somewhere And Talk – Joe Tex
20. I Can’t Stand It – Theola Kilgore
NOTE: If you like this album, you should also track down a copy the 2-cd set LOST AND FOUND: THE BLUE ROCK RECORD STORY, released in 1998 by Mercury, back when major labels were still mining their back catalogue for choice material. Those days are LONG GONE, and in hindsight, the 90’s were a golden age of major label repackaging of archival material in any number of genres. This compilation features 60 (!!!!!) sides from Mercury’s soul/R&B subsidiary, with master-tape sound and fine liner notes. Although copies at Discogs are a bit pricey, I saw 3 copies available on the Amazon Marketplace for around $10. I paid more than that when I bought my copy new in 1998 at the long-gone Sound Warehouse near where Perrin-Beitel merges into Nacogdoches.
Life is short; there are too many good and little-known 60’s soul 45’s you need to hear to waste your time on lesser activities. Turn off the TV, turn off the video games, and get copies of MERCURY SOUL DIAMONDS and this BLUE ROCK compilation….
Here’s a link to the earlier review of DECCA SOUL DIAMONDS: https://kendrasteinereditions.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/decca-soul-diamonds-buried-treasure-cdr-france/