DETROIT SOUL IS MORE THAN JUST MOTOWN

The New Holidays: My Baby Ain’t No Plaything
From VA: Westbound Detroit Northern Soul (Ace/Kent, 2010)

To some, Motown was Detroit. To others, it was the home of some – but not all – of Detroit’s great soul music heritage. Ace/Kent recently released a compilation highlighting some of the lesser known, but not lesser quality, soul songs to come out of Detroit. Instead of the more pop-oriented soul that Berry Gordy saw fit to unleash upon the world, Westbound released more traditional sounding soul. In later years, much of this style of soul was classified as Northern soul.

Much of the material falls within the first few years of the ’70s, although a few songs were cut at the tail end of 1969. The set starts off with a stomper in Denise Lasalle’s “Do Me Right.” With a rhythm section that keeps your foot tapping, horns accent the mixture to keep the momentum going. Denise appears a few songs later in a duet with Abe Tilmon, the lead singer of the Detroit Emeralds (who also appear on the disc), in “Ain’t That Lovin’,” a track that was previously unissued.

Both Denise and the Emeralds had taken a sabbatical down to Memphis to record some music with Willie Mitchell. Apparently, that influence was carried back as there is more than one song on the compilation that has a bit of that fat backbeat sound. Take Damon Shawn’s “Feel The Need,” itself a remake of a previous album cut belonging to the Detroit Emeralds, whose intro cries of the the late Mitchell’s handiwork, albeit slightly sped up. Mitchell would’ve slowed it down a touch to give it more breathing room, but in its faster-paced presentation it also works well. In other Memphis inspired material, Caesar Frazier does his best Al Green vocal interpretation. The music doesn’t necessarily remind you of the Hi sound, especially the chorus, but Frazier’s inflections along with his enunciation and cadence lean heavily on Green.

The compilation fares its best with songs that do have a distinct Detroit sound to them. The New Holidays, whose music has been brought back to awareness as Mayer Hawthorne covered “Maybe So, Maybe No” last year, with their doo-wop inspired “My Baby Ain’t No Plaything” is pure soul goodness. It’s happy-go-lucky in sound, although the lyrics are a warning to potential competition encroaching upon the lead’s girlfriend.

It’s quite an accomplishment when a compilation features a song by Funkadelic (in tamer form from the psychedelic trip they’d wander off for a couple years later) that gets nary a mention and names like Denise LaSalle and Damon Shawn attract the focus. Compilations don’t have to feature eight #1 hits that have been beaten to death to be a pleasure to listen to throughout. It’s nice to be introduced to new-to-you music, even if it is 40 years old, as this set proves through its 26 tracks.

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