An Evocative Postcard of a Near-Forgotten Sound
M. MOTEN | pittsburgh, pa United States | 07/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For all it's musical history - Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, the Brill Building, 52nd Street et al - one style New York City has never been known for is soul music, despite the huge number of writers, producers and artists that had to come through the city at some point. For a time, the Big Apple had a number of labels pursuing a distinctive "Big-City" sound, heavy on song craft and production value. Dramatic string section washes; sweet backing vocals and a classily intricate melodic bent typified the New York style on records by Dionne Warwick, the Drifters, the Shirelles, Sam Cooke and a host of lesser-known, but equally gifted singers. Despite the high quality of most recordings out of NYC, the "Uptown" sound, other regional labels would eclipse their Big Apple brethren. The world-beating success of the Motown Sound , the gritty gospel/country mix of Stax/Volt, and even the smooth and danceable soul of neighboring Philadelphia outshone the "Uptown" sound of NYC, which slowly slipped into (and then from) the memory of most. Luckily, for you and me, the soul devotees at UK label Kent have focused on the New York sound for another of their stellar compilations.
New York Soul Serenade samples some of the best Big City Soul from labels such as Scepter/Wand, RCA, Old Town and ABC/Dunhill. Compiler Ady Croasdell has assembled a stirring and impressive set of should have-been classics, with the emphasis on the sophisticated writing, stylish arrangements and urbanely dramatic vocals. Don't think for a minute that this is merely lightweight pop passing for soul. Walter Jackson's aching version of "No Easy Way Down" (a hit for Dusty Springfield), is moody and searching, while the Tangiers' "This Empty Place" (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) could be at home next to anything by the Four Tops or Temptations. Walter Johnson's "Not Now but Later" is soulful and impassioned as any effort by David Ruffin or William Bell. As usual for a Kent compilation there's a surprise: "In My Tenement" is a delight written and sung by ex-pro footballer Roosevelt Grier. I'd love to find a copy of the Grier album shown in the CD booklet! Along the way, we find more hidden gems like Junior Lewis' "Man Who Has Everything" and Big Maybelle's heartbreaking "Oh Lord, What are You Doing to Me?" New York Soul Serenade never fails to reward the next listen.