The Undisputed Truth ‘Face To Face With The Truth’ (Elemental/Universal) 4/5

the-undisputed-truthKicking off an extensive re-issue programme on CD, invariably in hard cover gatefold sleeve with inner sleeve like on the original vinyl whenever relevant, comes this tasty slice of early 1970s psychedelic Motown on the Gordy label off-shoot. Disco fans may be conversant with the later incarnation that scored a disco smash with ‘You + me = love’, but the original trio here were lead vocalist Joe Harris, and background female vocalists Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans. At the time of this early 1970s recording, the trio had scored their biggest commercial success with, ‘Smiling faces sometimes’, and while the follow-up album here did not match the former in chart glory, it was a significantly more cohesive album and stands the test of time, in large part thanks to the songwriting talents of Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield. Indeed Whitfield was the in-demand producer of the day and a stunning array of Motown musicians grace this album with Jack Ashford, Dennis Coffey and James Jamerson and keyboardist Earl Van Dyke just a few of the key names.
One of the strongest numbers here is the seven minute opener, ‘You make your own heaven and hell right here on earth’, recorded first by the Temptations, but in a slowed down second version, and this rekindled the social commentary of their previous hit single in both sound and ethos. Whitfield made a virtue out of re-working songs previously recorded with other Motown artists. A prime example is the near nine minute cover of another Temptations tune, Un gena za ulim wenga (Unite the world)’, that is given a new psychedelic slant in tone.

Of interest equally is an early cover of Marvin’s ‘What’s goin’ On’ and it must certainly have been among the earliest renditions since the original had barely surfaced as a single. As indicated hitherto, this was a far from uncommon practice at Motown where previously groups had re-worked individual singers songs and vice-versa, ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ being first a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, and then an even bigger success second time round for Marvin Gaye. Here the new version departs significantly from the original and may be a little too left-field for some, but is a virtual ten minute opus to psychedelic soul. Norman Whitfield was never a man to do things musically be half measure and so it proves on this excellent album, which has to be viewed from the wider prism of his work at Motown and beyond.

Tim Stenhouse