Collectors of Southern soul are a dedicated bunch of crate-diggers, and we have them to thank for the re-discovery and reissuing of a lot of long-gone, all-but-lost soul classics. A lot of Memphis and Muscle Shoals sides have been rescued for the digital era because of their efforts, and not just those recordings released by Stax Records, but a wealth of small-label craziness that would have slipped into obscurity if not for the fanaticism of collectors hoarding old sides from Excello, A-Bet, Dial, and other small independent labels.
Witness the legacy of Minaret Records, a small R&B imprint from Valparaiso, Florida that was re-purposed by producer Finley Duncan as a logical outgrowth of his Playground Recording Studio. Originally a country-leaning label in the early 1960s, by the end of the decade Duncan had moved the label into blues and R&B with Nashville partner Shelby Singleton. Although Minaret never scored any major chart hits during the label's short existence as a soul imprint, they could boast of a roster of classic soul, blues, and R&B talents that would have done any other label proud.
The South Side of Soul Street
The South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976 is a two-disc, 40-song collection that offers all of the A and B-sides from the Minaret catalog, most of these songs out-of-print for decades and fetching premium prices from collectors. Listening to The South Side of Soul Street for the first time is a revelation, one great song after another cascading from your speakers like honey dripping from a hive. Singer Big John Hamilton was the anchor of the Minaret roster, and he's represented here by a whopping 20 songs, performances like the grand, heartbreaking "I Have No One" or the Memphis-styled groove of "Pretty Girls" presents the head-scratching question of why Hamilton didn't become a big league star. His debuts with singer Doris Allen are of a similar high quality as his solo cuts, "A Place In My Heart" especially effective, the contrasting male and female voices bolstering the emotional impact of the lyrics.
Minaret was about more than just Big John Hamilton, though, and artists like Genie Brooks – whose funky-fresh "Fine Time" positions him as the label's Wilson Pickett – along with Johnny Dynamite and Gable Reed all possessed a certain star quality. Dynamite's "The Night The Angels Cried" is a hard-driving R&B tearjerker with great soul vocals and bleats of horn while Reed's "I'm Your Man" is a emotional plea for amour delivered in the best Otis Redding style, wiry guitar licks filling in between tears. Brooks' "South Side of Soul Street," from which the set takes its name, is bold, brassy, and swings like a blacksmith's hammer, the song a perfect funk-drenched snapshot of Southern soul circa 1969.
Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976
Willie Cobbs is best-known as a blues shouter, but the lone single he made for Minaret, "I'll Love Only You," is a mighty powerful R&B bonfire, with some fine Steve Cropper-styled git-pickin. The single's "B" side, "Don't Worry About Me," is equally entertaining, with bluesy harp loping alongside Cobbs' smoky vocals and shots of horn. Doris Allen should definitely been a bigger star, her larger than life voice and undeniable charisma pumping up standard R&B tracks like "A Shell Of A Woman" and "Kiss Yourself For Me" with the intensity of an Etta James.
Leroy Lloyd and the Dukes are obviously rockers at heart, their instrumental "Sewanee Strut" bouncing off the walls with bluesy horns, machine-gun drumbeats, and an infectious rhythm. By contrast, Lloyd's instrumental "A Taste of the Blues" is a slow-burner, smoldering piano accompanied by lively hornplay and smart fretwork by Lloyd that reminds of Freddie King. Willie Gable's "Row, Row, Row" is the single outlier here, a sort of lusty talking-blues styled R&B tune based on nursery rhyme melodies and lyrics that is just flat-out weird. The singer's "Eternally" plays much better, Gable traipsing across familiar soul turf with a torch-song ballad that places his wavering voice in a better light.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Like most of the Southern soul labels at the time, Duncan used a house band of talented, albeit largely unknown players like guitarists Larry Shell and John Rainey Adkins, as well as guest musicians like the Memphis Horns and Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham who all struck sparks in the recording studio when playing behind these great singers.
The South Side of Soul Street includes a nice CD booklet with a few rare photos and extensive liner notes from music historian Bill Dahl, a guy that knows his stuff and, more importantly, loves the music as deeply as any crate-digger. It's the music that does the talking on The South Side of Soul Street, though, the album a phenomenal tribute to the unsung artists that created these great performances. If you're a fan of 1960s-era soul music – and who isn't – and you haven't taken a walk on The South Side of Soul Street, what the heck are you waiting for? (Omnivore Records, released 08/13/13)
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