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The Live Collection

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

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Album Review

The Live Collection (2004) is a limited-edition package consisting of two previously released Smokey Robinson & the Miracles long-players from 1969 and 1972, respectively. Disc One houses Live! (1969), from a set at Motown's unofficial hometown digs, the Roostertail in Detroit. Disc Two contains the somewhat misleadingly-titled 1957-1972 (1972). While their first concert recording, Miracles on Stage (1963), captures the incipient incarnation with Claudette Robinson (Smokey's wife), the skimpy track list hardly did them justice. Not to mention, at that point the vast majority of their biggest hits were yet to have been created. In addition to Robinson, the Miracles' lineup consisted of vocalists Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore and Ronnie White. On Live!, they are instrumentally supported by a presumably ad hoc aggregate of Motown session players. The assembled band pull off those tricky and intricate licks with a swinging precision that is uncannily similar to the familiar studio 45s. The program is chock-full of anticipatory hits such as "I Second That Emotion," "Yester-Love," "Mickey's Monkey," a breathtaking "Ooo, Baby Baby" and a reading of "Going to a Go Go" that simply defies the listener to sit still. However, it is the unexpected covers of "Poinciana" — giving the Four Freshmen a run for their money — "Up, Up and Away," "Walk on By," "Yesterday" and the striking "Theme From 'The Valley of the Dolls'" and are definitely worthy of garnering repeated spins. By 1972, R&B and soul music had evolved into a very different place and the assumption that Robinson and company's popularity would have waned or that they had become passé is immediately dispelled. Greeted by shrieks and hearty applause, the Miracles set out to perform their last gigs prior to the permanent departure of Robinson — who acknowledges the occasion by presenting his replacement, Billy Griffin. The larger ensemble boast full horn and string sections under the direction of Motown stage conductor and arranger Thomas "Beans" Bowles. The proceedings are punctuated by favorites such as the opening rave-up "Tears of a Clown" followed by their final Top 40 pop entry with Smokey, "I Don't Blame You at All." Not to be missed is the loose and joke-filled "Shop Around," plus a particularly jaunty take of "More Love." Although the remakes are fewer in number, "Abraham, Martin and John" and "Got to Be There" — a concurrent smash for fellow Motown artist Michael Jackson — are given admirable overhauls. Another surprise is the on-stage reunion with Claudette Robinson, who briefly rejoins the group after a heartfelt introduction from then-hubby Smokey during the prologue to "Bad Girl." Enthusiasts and potential consumers should make haste as Live Collection is only available in an edition of 5,000 copies, obtainable exclusively through Hip-O Select's online shop, www.hip-oselect.com.

The Live Collection, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
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