Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

As February 2006 marks the 80th anniversary of Black History Month, we're continuing with an assessment of recent R&B, soul, funk and blues releases -- many of which are being offered for the very first time on CD. This week we're covering Shout! Factory's final entry in their overhaul of the 1970s back catalogue of the late, great Johnny 'Guitar' Watson. Plus, we'll have the lowdown on two vintage Motown concert sets: the previously unavailable recordings of Marvin Gaye At The Copa and the four-disc Motortown Revue - 40th Anniversary Collection.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson -- Giant (Shout! Factory)

Although fairly well known to hard core blues and funk fans, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson never made the sizable impact that his music has so rightly deserved. Thankfully, the audio archivists at Shout! Factory teamed up with Watson's family to insure that the multi-faceted musician's legacy would be given the treatment so befitting an artist of his stature.

Giant (1978) was Watson's collision with the disco scene. Much in the same way that George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic blended seamlessly with the times, Watson's Grade-A funk was certainly not wasted on the denizens of the dance floor. The tight rhythm section consists solely of drummer Emry Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Watson, who plays all the guitars, keyboards and percussion himself.

Among the highlights is the sassy opener "Miss Frisco (Queen Of The Disco)" and the remake of Watson's own Top 40 hit "Gangster Of Love." The latter retains all the groove that greased the original with even more of Watson's 'bad cat' attitude. Other sides of significance are the fusion of jazz and funk on "Wrapped In Black Mink," as well as a spaced-out "Base Station One" and "Do Me Bad So Good," -- the latter enveloped in the familiar backbeat of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."

Marvin Gaye -- At The Copa (Hip-O Select)

After nearly four decades languishing in the Motown vaults, this remarkable venture has finally seen the light of day. Although Marvin Gaye is primarily remembered as a ‘60s R&B icon, Motown founder Berry Gordy’s ultimate desire was for his artists to have a much broader crossover appeal. Not only would the younger audience like his latest soul music chart-climbers, but the older and possibly more sophisticated ears would enjoy his remakes of familiar pop standards and show tunes. Gaye’s versatility is evident throughout At The Copa -- which captures the singer during the summer of ’66 at the world-famous NYC nightclub. The best material from his live sets was prepped by Motown for release in early 1967 and the proposed long player was even given a catalogue number and cover artwork. However, as was occasionally the case, the entire project was ultimately shelved -- that is until now.

For modern listeners, this actually turns out to be a boon as the running time of this CD is more than twice as long as the typical 12” record. So, we're treated to both the consummate balladeer, as well as the soul music singer extraordinaire. From the powerful opening cover of Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate On You,” Gaye clearly has the nightclub audience feeding off of every note. His interpretation of “Laia Ladaia (Reza)” -- a concurrent smash for Sergio Mendez & Brazil ’66 -- demonstrates Gaye’s undeniably sensual side. Conversely, he leads the Copacabana Orchestra through a pair of hit-packed Motown medleys that include high-energy readings of “Can I Get A Witness,” “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow,” “Baby, Don’t Do It,” as well as “I’ll Be Doggone,” and “Hitchhike.” Plus, he mixes it up a bit with killer versions of songs from fellow Motown labelmates, including The Four Tops “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” And believe it or not, we’ve merely scratched the surface.

Interested parties are encouraged to make haste as At The Copa is limited to an edition of 20,000 copies worldwide and available only through the Hip-O Select internet audio boutique -- located on-line at www.hip-oselect.com.

Various Artists -- The Motortown Revue Collection (Hip-O Select)

The Motortown Review was sort of like Motown’s version of a traveling circus. Each tour was different from its predecessor with a multitude of top-shelf acts filling the bill. Folks who never had the satisfaction of witnessing one of these perpetually-on-the-road musical extravaganzas, can now experience the star-studded sonic spectacle on this anthology.

Each volume replicates one of the four original Motortown Revue albums released during the ‘60s.
Recorded Live At The Apollo (1963) contains offerings from The Supremes (“Let Me Go The Right Way”), Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (“You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”), Little Stevie Wonder (“Don’t You Know”), Mary Wells (“Two Lovers”) and Marvin Gaye (“Stubborn Kind Of Fellow”), among others.

Recorded Live: The Motortown Revue Vol. 2 (1964) definitely has a home field advantage as the venerable Fox Theater in Detroit is most definitely familiar stomping grounds. Speaking of stomping, that’s just what The Temptations (“I Want A Love I Can See”), Kim Weston (“Love Me All The Way”), Martha & The Vandellas (“Heat Wave”), Stevie Wonder (“Moon River”), The Miracles (“Mickey’s Monkey”), The Marvelettes (“Medley”) and Marvin Gaye (“Pride & Joy”) are up to.

Recorded Live: Motortown Review In Paris (1965) took the show to the other side of the pond, where they were treated like pop music royalty. Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers (“Too Many Fish In The Sea”) are the hard drivin’ house band. The Supremes (“Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Baby Love”), Miracles (“Ooo, Baby, Baby”), Martha & The Vandellas (“Nowhere To Run,” “Dancing In The Street”} and Stevie Wonder (“Fingertips”) provide but a few of the show’s non-stop highlights.

After a four-year lapse, Motortown Revue Live (1969) presented a host of new faces. The Originals (“Sing A Simple Song”), Blinky (“I Can’t Turn You Loose”) and Bobby Taylor (“Who’s Making Love”) are heard alongside Motown veterans The Temptations (“Cloud Nine”), Gladys Knight & The Pips (“I Wish It Would Rain”) and, once again, Stevie Wonder (“For Once In My Life”).

The deluxe packaging deserves major props as the oversized liner notes booklet has the look and feel of an old concert programme. Each of the CDs are housed in exact miniaturized replicas of the original respective LP jackets. To complete the experience, compilers have even thrown in a full-sized four-panel tour poster. As there are only 5,000 of these box sets available -- before they become highly sought after collectors’ items -- the only place to get ‘em while they last is to point a web browser near you to www.hip-oselect.com.

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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