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V/A - Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label

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Artist: V/A

Album: Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Feb. 2, 2006

The third installment in the Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul series brings together a slew of exceedingly impressive 45s released by Deep City and a couple of other related labels in Miami, Florida, in the 1960s. The core group of musicians behind these great songs was a trio of public school teachers and former Florida A&M marching band members named Willie Clarke, Johnny Pearsall, and Arnold Albury. The group met lots of other talented locals at Johnny’s Records, a retail outfit that Pearsall owned and managed when he wasn’t in the classroom. One of the greatest songs on the compilation is the giddy “Stay Away From My Johnny,” sung by a teenage clerk named Freda Grey who had a crush on her boss—he was apparently something of a ladies man, and apparently was bold enough to write a love song about himself and have it performed by an underage employee.

After recording their first single at a small local studio, Clark, Albury and Pearsall began to work with a singer and songwriter named Clarence Reid, who many of us now know as Blowfly. Eleven of the seventeen songs on Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label were co-written by Reid, but don’t worry; they’re a far cry from “Shitting On The Dock Of The Bay” or “Spermy Night In Georgia.” These tunes are completely different, closer to the stuff on his Dancin’ With Nobody But You album from 1969. They’re sweet and catchy soul numbers with nice stripped-down arrangements, simple but outstanding guitar playing, beautiful vocal harmonies, and well-placed organ and horn parts.

A couple of the artists on here were included (in various combinations) on the Soul Jazz collection Miami Sound, but there’s no crossover whatsoever on the track list. Helene Smith, who eventually became Johnny Pearsall’s wife, is represented on both comps and has five incredible songs on this disc. Two of the best are the slow ballad “I Am Controlled By Your Love,” about a hopelessly submissive girlfriend, and the more upbeat “Thrills And Chills.” Eccentric Soul also includes two songs from 1967 by then twelve year-old Betty Wright, who was discovered at Johnny’s Records after winning some free singles through a radio contest. Arnold Albury and Clarence Reid would continue to work with Betty when she was recording her great albums for the Alston imprint, two of which have been reissued by Water in the recent past.

I have to disagree with a colleague who argued that these collections are more valuable for the historical context they provide than for the actual music they contain. Obviously, it’s interesting to be able to hear what people like Clarence Reid and Betty Wright were doing in the earliest days of their careers, but a familiarity with their later work is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying this stuff. In fact, I think the singles that are collected on this CD represent some of the very best work by any of the known artists who’re involved, not to mention the most difficult to find anywhere else. Maybe I'm just a sucker, but this stuff seems like a hell of a lot more than a footnote to me.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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