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Ace (CDCHD1284)

Percy Sledge, Dionne Warwick, Sweet Inspirations, Charlie Rich, Etta James, Ovations, Solomon Burke, Arthur Alexander, Jeanne Newman, Art Freeman, Tony Borders, Sandy Posey, James Carr, The Boxtops, Ted Taylor, Tony Joe White, Arthur Conley, Ronnie Milsap, Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles, Irma Thomas, The Wallace Brothers, Barbara Lynn, Tommy Roe, Joe Simon.

Ace Records is brilliant at this kind of thing. ‘Sweet Inspiration' pays homage to two musical geniuses with a 24 track CD and a 28 page booklet containing label shots, rare photographs, music trade adverts and reviews and a 10,000 word essay by Tony Rounce and Bob Dunham.

During the golden age of deep soul in the 60s and 70s, Stax and American Studios in Memphis and FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals were pumping out some of the greatest music America had to offer and Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham were right in the thick of it writing and producing hit after hit including Dark End Of The Street for James Carr, Do Right Woman for Aretha Franklin, It Tears Me Up for Percy Sledge and Cry Like A Baby for The Boxtops.

‘Sweet Inspiration' showcases Penn and Oldham material performed by the finest of soul stars alongside the likes of pop diva Sandy Posey, country singers Ronnie Milsap and Jeanne Newman and the old swamp dog Tony Joe White - giving it a nice mix of big hits sung by the original artists, great cover versions and some songs that should have been hits but weren't!

Solomon Burke's bluesy ballad Take Me Just As I Am with its churchy monologue, Percy Sledge's sublime Out of Left Field and The Sweet Inspiration's Sweet Inspiration with it's dreamy harmonies will bring memories flooding back to hardcore soul fans while Arthur Alexander's spirited remake of The Boxtop's Cry Like A Baby and Art Freeman's upbeat arrangement of Jimmy Hughes Slippin' Around will be a revelation to most listeners. In fact, a number of these tunes are obscure enough to have passed me by, but I've discovered some stunning material here - like The Ovations' I'm Living Good with it's catchy tune, sliding horns and shades of Sam Cooke in the vocals, Etta James anguished big ballad I Worship The Ground You Walk On and Charlie Rich's slice of perfection A Woman Left Lonely which surprisingly first appeared on Janis Joplin's ‘Pearl' album. It's these songs and others like James Carr's unissued version of the majestic Let It Happen, Barbara Lynn's sensuous He Ain't Gonna Do Right, Joe Simon's brassy ballad Let's Do It Over featuring his silky smooth delivery and Patti LaBelle's smokin' Dreamer that help to make this the perfect album.

When it comes to writing a good soul song - they don't come any better than Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. This album is pure gold proof.

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Review Date: Febraury 2011

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