For this second fall-winter instalment, our friend and music collaborator Claude Lemaire has selected six soul albums to warm us up through these cooler temperatures and difficult challenging times. Peace to all. "As always, if you find my recommended pressings too expensive, you can usually replace them by other more affordable pressings but be aware that the sound quality may differ quite a lot from my sonic descriptions and be wary of any digital intermediates in the complex chain."

1- Jr. Walker & the All Stars – Road Runner. 
Soul – SLS 703 (Sept. 1966), Tamla Motown – SS-703 (Can.), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: funky R&B, Motown Sound, soul.

Walker, well known for his first big hit single "Shotgun" in February 1965, followed up with "(I'm a) Road Runner"–originally on his debut album but now reappearing as the title-track of his second LP. The tenor saxophone reprises also Motown mate Marvin Gaye's 1964 hit "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)". Mixing funky soul with R&B, he solidifies his signature sax sound and style over eleven entertaining short songs. Legendary bassist James Jamerson joins Junior along with James Graves on drums, Willie Woods on guitar, and Vic Thomas on keyboards. A slew of producers contributed, including Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Berry Gordy, Harvey Fuqua, and future soulful disco singer Johnny Bristol, better known for his 1974 hit "Hang On in There Baby". No engineer is credited but the overall sound is seriously appealing on my Canadian Tamla 'Phonodisc Limited' first pressing with generous warm bass and crisp guitars, sax, and vocals. I don't have the original US Soul pressing to compare with. 

2- Isaac Hayes – Presenting Isaac Hayes.
Enterprise – S 13-100, Atlantic – SD 13-100 (Feb. 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: sultry soul, blues, jazz.

Hailing from Tennessee, the self-taught singer, songwriter, producer, musician, and actor was one of the principle architects of the Memphis sound and Southern soul, spearheaded by Stax, Volt, and Hi records. Along with writing partner David Porter, they composed and arranged some of the biggest soul hits of the 1960s and early-1970s including Sam & Dave's 1967 smash single "Soul Man" to name but one. The following year, Hayes released his debut album–a totally improvised session combining a blend of blues, jazz, and sultry soul–organically original and a precursor to symphonic soul maestro Barry White, a full five years prior to. Produced and supervised by Alvertis Isbell–aka Al Bell–and recorded no doubt 'live' without overdub at Stax Studios in Memphis, TN; the relaxed atmosphere has him talking, singing, and sparsely playing piano, while bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and drummer Al Jackson Jr.–both from Stax' house band Booker T. & The M.G.'s–spontaneously enter and exit, accompanying him along the way. The latter group's guitarist Steve Cropper and Atlantic's Arif Martin mixed the album's five tracks, keeping the raw realistic recording very intimate, and highly dynamic. It is very impressive-sounding, especially the lightning fast drum strokes panned to the right of the piano which have a natural tom skin resonance rarely heard on record. The only minor quibble would be a slight cymbal lack of finesse. It was released both with the Enterprise logo on the front cover as well as the Atlantic logo at the same time. My copy is the latter, probably pressed by Presswell in Ancora, New Jersey.

3- Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul.
Enterprise – ENS-1001 (May 1969), MoFi – MFSL 1-273 (2005), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: cinematic soul, symphonic soul, sultry soul, psychedelic soul.

Hayes turned up the heat on Hot Buttered Soul the following year with what many consider to be his finest musical moment, along with the Shaft soundtrack in summer of 1971. Indeed, it marks a major musical milestone and evolution in creativity and production aesthetic; not only for Hayes as an artist but for the future of soul music in style, direction, and coming to full fruition in the fast-approaching new decade–not discounting the trip hop movement of the 1990s which would sample his downtempo material. The first thing that surely struck the listener back then was that it featured only four tracks lasting between 5 and 18 minutes long–an unheard practice at the time when most soul songs were still under the four and a half way mark, though this would soon change just a couple of years later. Instead of the unpolished and unapologetic looseness of the preceding debut album, here we encounter something much more structured and varnished, commensurate in scope with a glossy Ian Fleming flick–in fact the hard-panned staccato brass, bolster the wide and deep scene with a shiny Goldfinger ambiance...Mr. Bond. On it, he brings his unique slower interpretation of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Walk On By"–originally sung by Dionne Warwick in 1964–and solidly nails it. Harold Beane's fuzzy guitar solo evokes the psychedelic sounds of the period. Hayes also offers his version of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"–a 1967 hit by Glen Campbell. Produced by Al Bell, Allen Jones, and keyboardist Marvell Thomas, and accompanied by The Bar-Kays, it was engineered by Ed Wolfrum and Terry Manning, and remixed by Russ Terrana, Jr. at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN and United Sound Systems in Detroit, MI. Paul Richmond cut the lacquer at Mastercraft in Memphis, TN. The tonal balance is quite good but has a small tendency towards the treble taking on more emphasis than the bass registers resulting in a sharp sound with great depth and detail but a bit more bass punch would be welcome. Nonetheless, still very pleasant. If my memory is intact, the 2005 MoFi remastered by Krieg Wunderlich was good also, though I can't recall that it was superior, simply an interesting alternative I believe. I have not heard the 2018 Craft remaster [CR00034] by Dave Cooley and cut by Chris Noel to compare and comment.

4- Barbara Acklin – Love Makes a Woman.
Brunswick – BL 754137 (July 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Chicago soul, Northern soul, romantic soul, sentimental soul, R&B, ballads.

Isaac Hayes isn't the only soul singer songwriter that reappropriates Bacharach-David compositions. In effect, the album opens with two of these–a cover of Jackie DeShannon's "What the World Needs Now Is Love", followed by Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love". On her debut album released in summer 1968, the Oakland-born, Brunswick-signed artist, presents eleven soulful songs incorporating beautiful bass, brass, piano, and string arrangements. She sings with great control and class, and her voice is very well captured with wide natural range. Produced by Carl Davis and Chi-Lites lead vocalist Eugene Record, the uncredited musicians and backup singers recall Aretha Franklin's early-Atlantic period in style and engineering choices such as hard-panned drums, bass, guitars, strings, and vocals, bringing great clarity to the musical phrases which I always welcome. The Brunswick tonal balance is simply lovely as is so often the case with this truly historic label going back to the beginning of the twentieth century and recording era. It is pressed by MCA Pressing Plant, Gloversville in NY. Simply an incredible album and ambiance. Barbara Acklin continued to release musically interesting material into the early-1970s until leaving Brunswick in 1973.

5- The Impressions – This Is My Country. 
Curtom – CRS 8001 (Nov. 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Chicago soul.

Before launching a successful solo singing, producing, and composing career, Curtis Mayfield was the main driving force behind the The Impressions. Stemming from Chattanooga, TN, in 1958, the group soon switched to Chicago whilst for a brief stint, singer Jerry Butler was the lead with Mayfield taking over when Butler began his own solo path two years later. Throughout the myriad membership, they recorded twenty albums during a two-decade run, releasing This Is My Country smack in the middle of the pack in november 1968–the first LP featured on Curtis' own Curtom label. I was lucky to find a second hand copy twenty years ago in a country thrift shop during a sunday stroll where I stumbled upon the Pusherman's prior period. Nine out of the ten short tracks are written and produced by maestro Mayfield, creating a musically-rich driven album. No recording engineer is credited. It was mastered at the Customatrix plant with the lacquer cut at Bell Sound Studios in New York. The sound falls in line with the production style of the late-1960s and what you could expect from a Motown release, which is slighly light in the bass registers while the rest of the spectrum is quite nicely rendered, especially so regarding Mayfield's distinctive vocals. A sleeper of an album worth seeking out.      

6- Stevie Wonder – My Cherie Amour. 
Tamla – TS 296 (Aug. 1969), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: soul, pop.

Released August 1969, this was Wonder's eleventh studio album following For Once in My Life [Tamla TS 291]. Of course this is far from his best album, but it is worth having just the same, and is the kind of LP that I like to pull out on occasion when feeling more sentimental than purely funky. The title-track is my favorite song along with his interpretations of The Doors' "Light My Fire", as well as the Johnny Mandel-penned "The Shadow of Your Smile". On some of the twelve tracks he plays his signature harmonica that fameously sealed the deal with Motown signing him at age eleven, and finding success two years later with his first hit single "Fingertips" found on his debut album, 1962's The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie [Tamla TM 233]–as he was known at that time. Produced by Henry Cosby. Funk Brothers' Benny Benjamin on drums and James Jamerson on bass are on the left while guitar, strings and conga are on the right, accompanying Stevie center stage. The sound presentation is kept simple and breathes easily with a natural tone balance and dymamic range for the genre. No recording engineers are credited. Larry Kling cut the lacquer and my copy was pressed by RCA Records Pressing Plant, Indianapolis in IN. 

To explore in further detail visit: Claude Lemaire/soundevaluations