Various ‘Please Release Me – The Soulful Side of Country’ (Jasmine) 4/5

When Ray Charles cut the album, ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’, he fully understood the connection between rhythm and blues and country genres, and it should come as little surprise, then, that the resulting songs were loved by country, soul and blues fans alike, and that cut straight across ethnic lines. In reality, country music and the blues, and its later incarnation soul music, were always cut from the same cloth, albeit from different sides of the geographical track, and in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, a sub-genre, southern soul, drew deeply from the country well of songwriters and positively flourished. That included the likes of Loleatta Holloway (in her pre-disco diva days), Denise Lasalle and a young Candi Staton to name but three.
This new compilation captures an earlier era in the 1950s and early 1960s and takes a leaf out of some of the finest ACE label anthologies, including the three volumes thus far exploring the relationship between country and soul music, focusing squarely on the quality soul singers who loved to interpret the country music repertoire. There are some surprising candidates too. Who would for example expect [Little] Esther Philips who later cut, ‘Home is where the heart is’ and ‘What a difference a day makes’ interpreting country songs? Yet interpret them she most certainly did and she opens up proceedings here with, ‘Release me’. And what about Fontella Bass, William Bell and even New Orleans singer par excellence, Fats Domino? The latter interestingly chose to cover Hank Williams immortal, ‘Your cheatin’ heart’. They must have known they were onto something good and this is what makes the music as a whole so enjoyable. Charles has two offerings of which, ‘Take these chains from my heart’, is an achingly soulful rendition with the singer extracting every last ounce of sweat from the song. Solomon Burke impresses with another brace of songs of which, ‘I really don’t want to know’, is marginally superior, while northern soul icon William Bell makes an impassioned plea on, ‘Please help me. I’m falling’.

At a later stage in the 1990s soul, blues and country singers would come together for a series of sumptuous duets on the ground breaking album, ‘Rhythm, Country and Blues’ with pairings as unusual as Al green and Lyle Lovett, George Jones and B.B. King and even Sam Moore and Conway Twitty. It was a recording that sought to break down artificial boundaries, but the songs on this new compilation hark back to a different era when music was codified along racial lines, and consequently this makes the efforts contained within all the more praiseworthy.

Tim Stenhouse