Edwin Starr ‘Involved’ (expanded edition) (BBR) 5/5

edwin-starrSoul legend Edwin Starr scored successive R & B singles hits during the 1960s and has gone on to become one of the most consistent soul singers of all time, straddling eras and styles from northern soul through to disco. However by the early 1970s the sound of Motown and soul music in general was changing, reflecting the more turbulent social atmosphere that reigned in the United States and parallel to this producer Norman Whitfield was pioneering an altogether grittier instrumentation that incorporate elements of rock psychedelia, yet still retained the soulfulness of the early Stax and mid-late 1960s Atlantic soul recordings. Edwin Starr would be the ideal muse on which to try out this new musical experiment and the album ‘Involved’ would prove to be a critical high point in his career. Arguably his greatest ever performance in the studio was on ‘War’ which practically defines the early 1970s alongside Marvin’s ‘What’s goin’ on’ and this is simply a stunning song that bears repeated listens and never loses its intensity. Virtually as strong is the cover of the Temptations ‘Cloud Nine’ which features a lovely percussive intro and single rhythm guitar riff before Edwin goes straight into the song. For northern soul fans the Smokey Robinson composed ‘Way over there’ works a treat and this features some lovely bass accompaniment. A cover of George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ is the ideal way to end the album on a reflective note and the electric piano of the intro recalls Donny Hathaway in his prime and from a gentle start the song builds into a mid-tempo gospel infused number with female background vocals to convey that spiritual vibe. No less than thirteen bonus cuts supplement the original album and of these only three are alternate single versions. Of the rest they cover the short period between 1972 and 1974 when Starr was prolific with new releases and recorded under both Whitfield and Freddy Perren. A blistering uptempo workout on ‘Who is the leader of the people’ is a highlight as is the gorgeous rare groove feel to a song written by Starr himself, ‘There you go’ and this deserves to be resurrected. A change of production and change of era with ‘Ain’t it hell up in Harlem’ with early disco already on the march and blaxploitation films then in vogue. This is a classy outing. Edwin Starr would go on to end the decade with two major disco hits in ‘Contact’ and ‘Happy Radio’, but he will be for forever remembered for his soulful delivery and that is illustrated to perfection on this excellent value for money CD.

Tim Stenhouse