BRENDA HOLLOWAY: THE ARTISTRY OF BRENDA HOLLOWAY (1968)
1) Together 'Til The End Of Time; 2) Every Little Bit Hurts; 3) Where Were You; 4) I've Got To Find It; 5) Unchained Melody; 6) Hurt A Little Every Day; 7) I'll Be Available; 8) You've Made Me So Very Happy; 9) I've Been Good To You; 10) Too Proud To Cry; 11) I'll Always Love You; 12) Operator; 13) When I'm Gone; 14) You Can Cry On My Shoulder; 15) Just Look What You've Done; 16) Starting The Hurt All Over Again; 17*) Mr Lifeguard (Come And Rescue Me); 18*) My Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Down; 19*) After All That You've Done; 20*) The Love Line; 21*) Can't We Be Strangers Again; 22*) Just Another Lonely Night; 23*) Where There's A Will There's A Way; 24*) It's Love I Need.
As I said, Brenda Holloway's discography is so messy and confused that you will find quite a few sources repeating that The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway was her second and last «regular» LP on the Motown label. That is, however, only true to a certain degree. First, it seems to have had a very limited release — restricted to the UK, for some reason (apparently, somebody calculated that Brenda Holloway was more popular among the British; might that have anything to do with young Stevie Winwood covering ʽEvery Little Bit Hurtsʼ?). Second, in reality it was a compilation — singles, B-sides, album tracks, some stuff from the shelved Hurtin' And Cryin', and just three or four songs from the vaults. Not much to write home about.
Now, fourty-five years later, the album unexpectedly gets remembered and re-released by Ace Records — with a whoppin' eight bonus tracks, also culled from the vaults and unavailable elsewhere, not even on the comprehensive 2-CD Motown Anthology from 2005. Any reason to be interested? Yes. For serious lovers of Motown, these extra tracks, combined with whatever news might be culled from the original album, will be a bit of a blessing. Why the label never cared about releasing or promoting this music in the Sixties is a big question mark — many of these songs are just as good as any brand of lush pop that they were peddling back then. Just one more of these silly «personal conflict issues», I guess, as history tells us.
Anyway, here are some highlights. First, the original album. In addition to the good stuff that was already mentioned in the previous two reviews, we have ʽWhere Were Youʼ, an upbeat, Supremes-style single with ecstatic strings, triumphant brass, handclaps, angelic backing vocals, and a party atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the usual lost-love lyrics. Even more fun are the two extra Smokey Robinson tracks — ʽOperatorʼ, where Brenda once again beats Mary Wells in terms of depth and subtlety; and ʽI'll Be Availableʼ, which is just super-catchy-friendly — you know, one of those tunes that should have been covered by the Beatles on the BBC sessions. "When the U.S. mail is no longer mailable, I'll be available" gets me every time.
Two more dang fine Smokey compositions are among the bonuses — ʽMy Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Downʼ, known as a hit for Carolyn Crawford, is also done much more expressively by Brenda, in fact, Smokey's «weeping» ballads are the perfect vehicle for Ms. «Hurtin'-and-Cryin'» to ride altogether; and ʽAfter All That You've Doneʼ, once again more upbeat and playful, castigates the lady's unfaithful friend in a bittersweet manner — finger-poppin', funky bassline, sly vocal hooks ("you had a girl over here, a girl over there"), the works. She also does a good job with Billy Eckstine's ʽLove Lineʼ, and fires all her cannons on ʽIt's Love I Needʼ, although, to be frank, «hystrionic» vocal delivery is not her strongest area — she could compete with Mary Wells in expressiveness, or she could offer an «aristocratic» alternative to the rowdiness of Martha Reeves and the seductive squeakiness of Diana Ross, but when it comes to wailing and howling and bellowing, she was no Aretha.
Anyway, while once again this is an odd, ragged release that should probably best be left without any «rating» as such, it is definitely a good thing that the vaults are being cleaned up this way — it does baffle the mind, though, just how many perfectly commercial and perfectly artistically attractive little nuggets Motown had Brenda record for them in the Sixties, only to let them gather shelf dust for decades. My only complaint is that there's way too much overlap with Motown Anthology — most people will probably go for just one or the other. Then again, these days it is becoming obsolete to think even in terms of «compilations», much less cohesive LPs, and the way they treated Brenda, she'd be like the perfect number one candidate to promote futuristic services like Spotify. Just hunt down the songs anyway.