Don Gardener? Little Charles & The Sidewinders? Jackye Owens? The Soul Shakers? I hadn’t heard of them either, at least not until I heard Rock Beat’s new crate-diving collection Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73. Not every artist on this 4-disc, 112-track box set grooved and grinded in obscurity. Along with the head scratchers are Ike & Tina Turner, Carla Thomas, Kenny Gamble (pre-Huff), Big Dee Irwin, Bettye LaVette, and certainly others who will be familiar to soul scholars. However, even those artists are represented by deep cuts. In fact, Rock Beat’s goal was to only collect tracks that had never appeared on CD before. That’s a pretty massive challenge to take on in the waning days of the medium when rarity collections like these are a jukebox-dime a dozen. I’m not sure how close the compilers came to their goal, but I can at least say I’ve never heard a single thing in this set, though I’m no soul scholar.
I will say this: normally when I review a collection of songs I’ve mostly never heard before, I keep a running list of stand-out tracks to single out in my review. I gave up doing that with Groove & Grind when I realized I was writing down every track. Despite the obscurity of these songs, they are really consistent, and the compiler’s decision to mix up the chronology ensures that Groove & Grind rarely lapses into saminess. Each disc adheres to a theme (Urban Soul, Group Soul, Southern Soul, Funky Soul), but the first three themes are so general that the running remains eclectic and surprising. Things only get intermittently samey on the James Brown-worshipping funky fourth disc. There are also some refreshing splashes of humor, like when The Soul Shakers ill-advisedly challenge Muhammad Ali in “Big Train” or Chet “Poison” Ivey ill-advisedly demands to be called “The Poo Poo Man” in “The Poo Poo Man”.
My only knock is the sound, which is pretty harsh. The liner notes warn that some master tapes couldn’t be recovered and those tracks had to be ripped from 45s. That’s all fine and good, but almost everything on this set kind of sounds like a 45 rip. Perhaps this was a mastering decision to retain consistency, but recordings taken from master tapes should sound better than this, especially when they demand the weight and depth that soul demands.
The song selection and packaging (a mini-box format with extensive track notes), however, are superior. Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73 is a four-disc instant party. Get it on Amazon.com here: