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Monday, May 18, 2015

Brenda Holloway: The Motown Anthology


CD II: 1) Think It Over (Before You Break My Heart); 2) I'll Always Love You; 3) Operator; 4) I'll Be Available; 5) Together 'Til The End Of Time; 6) Where Were You; 7) I've Got To Find It; 8) How Many Times Did You Mean It; 9) You've Changed Me; 10) All I Do Is Think About You; 11) Who Could Ever Doubt My Love; 12) Come Into My Palace; 13) He's My Kind Of Fellow; 14) You Need Me; 15) Love Woke Me Up This Morning; 16) I Prayed For A Boy; 17) Don't Judge Me; 18) I'll Always Meet You Half Way; 19) You Are Very Much A Part Of Me; 20) I'm On The Right Track; 21) How Can You Call It Love When The Feeling's Gone; 22) I See A Rainbow; 23) Play It Cool, Stay In School; 24) Summertime.

In the end, there's probably got to be a special mention of this package, even if it's cropped up several times already — because, as of now, the first CD of this edition is where you get your most natural, most properly remastered, and, for that matter, your only official access to Brenda's first two LPs: the filler-stuffed Every Little Bit Hurts and the prematurely shelved Hurtin' And Cryin'. This is just the first disc, though. The second one, once you get past the first bunch of tracks that duplicate some of the songs on The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway, is stoked with even more oldies that were written, arranged, recorded, and mixed by Motown — then, once again, left unreleased, with the invisible hand of Ms. Holloway's mortal enemy always blocking their public availability at the last moment. Imagine that — dozens and dozens of well-polished, completely marketable songs left to rot. What a waste, eh? And, most likely, all because of some silly intrigues and under-the-carpet competition.

Anyway, it is true that there are no genuinely outstanding nuggets here: most of these previously unavailable tunes are relatively standard Motown fare (not that «relatively standard Motown fare» songs have never been hits — from a commercial standpoint, quite a few of these could be winners circa 1965-67). Interestingly, most of them are also upbeat, overturning Holloway's «hurtin' and cryin'» image: for instance, ʽCome Into My Palaceʼ, a duet with sister Patrice, sounds like a merry Shirelles serenade from the beginning of the decade, and the Ed Cobb-written ʽYou Are Very Much A Part Of Meʼ, set to the ʽYou Can't Hurry Loveʼ rhythm, is an upwinding, ecstatic celebration of joy that shows all those little bits can heal pretty quickly, depending on what it is that you go into the studio with.

And on ʽI'm On The Right Trackʼ and ʽI See A Rain­bowʼ, the drummer pounds so hard and the back vocalists sing so tightly — you'd think the lady could have won over the audience with sheer collective energy alone, like The Four Tops won over the audiences not necessarily with melody, but with their sheer capacity to transmit that «jubilation vibe». As in, you have no idea why they're being that joyous about something, but they sure as hell are infectious. Admittedly, though, as I already said, Brenda's voice is not that well suited to transmit joy as it is to transmit sorrow — Diana Ross had her beat for a reason.

The last two tracks are worth noting for special reasons. ʽPlay It Cool, Stay In Schoolʼ is a pro­paganda ditty that Brenda recorded for a socially oriented purpose — each time I hear a song like this, I tell myself that I wouldn't mind paying to learn, out of sheer sociological interest, whether any single person in America ever changed his/her mind about dropping out based on any such musical «stimulation»? It's hilarious how they try to mold all these clichés like "when you learn more, you're bound to earn more" into catchy hooks — yes, some poor kid will definitely fall for that, humming these lines each day on the way to school. But then again, is there any psycholo­gical difference between a message-carrying pop-radio-jingle and a straightforward commercial advertising? Maybe it worked after all.

Then, at the very end, there is a rather beautiful live version of ʽSummertimeʼ, recorded some­where in a club setting and, for the first and last time, giving us a glimpse of what could have been if Brenda had settled for a career in vocal jazz instead. She's no Billie or Ella, of course, and her ʽSummertimeʼ may be a bit too slowed down, but she sings strongly, fluently, and passionate­ly, and could probably have assured herself a good position in the «B league» of jazz divas. But that, of course, could never have happened under contract with Motown, and by the time the contract was terminated, it was already too late. All in all, the more you listen to these songs, the more you tend to start thinking not about these songs, and not even about Brenda Holloway in particular, but about the good old «slings and arrows».

Anyway, get The Motown Anthology. All of us music lovers owe the unfortunate lady at least this one — ensure that her legacy lives on way beyond that of Taylor Swift, if possible.

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