Jazz, soul and even disco have featured in Marlena Shaw’s lengthy career, and she enjoyed at least two career highs, one at Chess with the original take on ‘Woman Of The Ghetto’, and a second, in the late 1970’s with the anthemic late night laid back rapped monologue sound of ‘Yuma/Go Away Little Boy’. The latter, and the album from which it stems, forms the backdrop to this compilation that narrowly focuses on three albums that Shaw recorded for Columbia which covers less than five years of her career, and cannot even be considered a fair representation of her 1970’s output. All of the ‘Sweet Beginnings’ album (reviewed previously) is contained here, is a lovely album that any music lover should have in their possession, and if you do not already own that album (which BBR has already re-issued separately), then that might possibly justify purchasing this release. However, SoulMusic sadly seem to have missed a golden opportunity here to pair up the best of the Columbia with the best of Shaw’s albums for Blue Note, and some of these are already available on Soul Music, so presumably gaining rights to the material was not an issue. As such, the listener coming to Marlena Shaw’s work from a fresh perspective will not be in a position, if they only listen to her Columbia albums, to grasp what a wide-ranging musical vocabulary she had. The two CD format should be ideal for dividing up her jazzier cuts from the soulful and dance oriented side, and it is a great pity that an anthology that cuts across the two labels is not currently available. An early 1980’s modern soul album Marlena Shaw enjoyed success with in the UK would have added to a more representative overview of her career.
That said, for fans of the soul and dance material only, the compilation offers up a couple of bonus tracks in a 12″ re-mix of ‘Touch Me In The Morning’, and a special disco version of ‘Love Dancin’. Neither were major disco hits and, in truth, her classy vocals were better served on the more restrained songs of ‘Sweet Beginnings’, which is a fine album in its own right. For soul fans, there is interest in the version of, ‘I’m Back For More’. though it is a clear second to the Al Johnson and Jean Carn classic. Devotees of her jazz repertoire are best advised to stick with the one CD, ‘Sweet Beginnings’ and search out the individual Blue Notes, of which ‘Live at Montreux’ is outstanding. Even the Blue Note soul oriented albums make for better listening experiences, and they surely would have significantly enhanced the anthology as a whole. Detailed liner notes by David Nathan, with the usual attention to detail in respect of label and cover illustration. One cannot help but think that another compilation that is over-arching in label coverage is needed in order to present a more balanced picture of the wonderful and versatile singer that Marlena Shaw still was in the 1970’s.