Major Lance ‘Ain’t No Soul (In These Old Shoes): The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-67’ (Soul Music/Sony Legacy) 4/5

A major figure on the northern soul scene in the UK and much-loved among soul aficionados across the board, Major Lance enjoyed his greatest success with Okeh records in the mid-1960s and this is the focus of this expanded double CD anthology. Moreover, it is a compilation that improves upon previous efforts that have tended to be single LP./CD offerings of approximately sixteen or so songs. The new re-issue offers a comprehensive selection of fifty-three songs and draws upon the authoritative writing of Chicago soul writer Robert Pruter.

What may surprise some is that for a period in the 1960s, Major Lance was second only to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions in terms of soul selling ability in the Windy City. However, there was a close connection between Lance and Mayfield and it was indeed the latter wrote a large number of songs that Lance subsequently covered, and some of these were backed by members of the impressions on backing vocals. Equally, however, Major Lance drew inspiration from the ace Motown songwriting talents of Norman Whitfield, William Stephenson, Clarence Paul and not forgetting Marvin Gaye. Producers varied, but included the likes of Johnny Pate, Carl Davis (later of The Chi-Lites, Curtis Mayfield and Ted Cooper).

Sweet harmonies predominate with, ‘Gonna get married’, ‘Sweet music’ and the ever catchy, ‘Um Um Um Um Um Um’, just some of the choicier songs on offer as well as the famous number that is the title of the compilation. Creditable alternatives to Impressions’ originals include a shuffling rhythm to, ‘It’s all right’. An interesting aside is a reading of a Latin soul classic in, ‘Watusi’, which, here, has far more of an R & B than a strictly Latin flavour.

Of course, some were tailor made for the dancefloors of northern soul such as the stomping, ‘Investigate’, while uptempo numbers such as, ‘Delilah’, featured inventive piano licks. This writer especially warmed to the understated hues of, ‘Think nothing bout it’, and the lush production of, ‘Without a doubt’. Johnny Pate was always a classy producer and this is showcased on the gorgeous bass to the mid-tempo, ‘Gotta get away’ from 1965. Lance’s somewhat gentle vocal delivery was ideally suited to the medium tempo songs. While there might be other candidates for the mantle of Chicago’s greatest ever soul vocalist, with Curtis Mayfield in prime position, and Gene Chandler and Walter Jackson, close behind, Major Lance will be forever associated with the 1960s Chicago soul sound and this overarching anthology does an excellent job of illustrating the key songs in his career.

Detailed liner notes are written by Clive Anderson who leaves no stone unturned.

Tim Stenhouse