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Northern Soul Legend

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Album Review

"Northern Soul Legend"? That might be overdoing it, even considering that the U.K.'s Northern soul scene venerates numerous artists who never had much commercial success. But the Nashville-based Hunter did a lot of soul records in the 1960s for Spar and Spar-distributed labels. Fifteen such tracks (one released using the name Leroy Jones) from the mid-'60s form the bulk of this compilation. These show Hunter to be a decent soul singer comfortable with several different approaches, perhaps as an outgrowth of his main gig doing "soundalike" records (or close copies of then-current hits) for Spar. Sometimes, in fact, the sides are derivative enough to obscure Hunter's identity, like "Happy Go Lucky," a Major Lance soundalike that's nonetheless enjoyable. While these cuts (in common with many Spar sessions) sometimes have an underproduced feel, Hunter's vocals are consistently committed if not always distinctive. They hit the best mark when he goes for a bluesy soul groove, as he does on "Diddlin' and Driftin'," "I'm so Satisfied," and "I've Gotta Sit Down." More mainstream, Motown-influenced cuts, especially "Push Away from the Table," "Love Has Taken Over Me," "The Sound of a Crying Man," and "Big Oak Tree" are reasonably strong. Keeping the pace varied are "Isn't It Wonderful to Dream," which recalls the Drifters, and the relatively lush "Make Me Know You Love Me," where some Nashville pop influence is evident. According to the liner notes, future Hendrix bass player Billy Cox can be heard on some sides, with others featuring renowned Area Code 615 session musicians, though who plays on which of the '60s tracks isn't detailed. Nor are, unfortunately, the original release dates and labels on which the tracks appeared, but it's still a fairly good pickup for soul specialists in search of rare material that's more diverse than many such efforts of the period. The CD finishes with five mid-'90s recordings that generally have brassier, more full-bodied contemporary Southern soul production, Hunter's voice having gotten lower and huskier with age.

Northern Soul Legend, Herbert Hunter
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