Helene Smith - "True Love Don't Grow On Trees" (Eccentric Soul: The Outskirts Of Deep City)
The Numero Group has taken many different approaches to compilations over the years, looking at labels, genres, countries, scenes, cities and one manís knowledge of power-pop. But Eccentric Soul, their flagship series, has remained decidedly focused, honing in on long lost labels, their people, and their stories, taking us twice to Chicago and Columbus, and once to Miami and Arizona. And in every case, the trail that led Ken Shipley, Rob Sevier and Tom Lunt to the music is almost as improbable and absurd as the story of the musicians themselves. This installment, though, takes a slightly different approach.
Weíre once again in Miami, once again with a seemingly improbably back story - this time involving a mysterious and hard-to-get box of tapes belonging to one Willie Clarke, founder of Deep City Records from the third Eccentric Soul release, that may or may not have held a secret stash of Miami soul. But there is no unified story behind the music, no overarching narrative to create. Many of the same characters appear as in the first Deep City comp, but theyíre cast in a slightly different light here. As Shipley freely admits in his liner notes, this is an appendix to the Miami soul story complete with an actual appendix of names, locations, and other significant, related tidbits.
As is typical with Eccentric Soul releases, the material here is all generally pretty good; some is fairly generic, a bit feels like filler, and a few tracks really stand out. Helene Smith unsurprisingly is the heart and soul of the album. Her three real tracks (there is a fourth, an early cut that is a mere shadow of her later efforts) cover a huge range of emotions convincingly, propelling songs that could have been maudlin, sentimental or just plain bland into the most powerful songs on the compilation. Beyond her, the other female singers all sound rough around the edges or just plain immature, with the possible exception of Betty Wright, though she doesnít have Smithís range. Other than that, the only other major figure is Clarence Reid, who reprises his role as the major songwriter for this scene. All the rest of the songs fit well into the various categories of soul music, with the Rollers doing Jackson 5 pop, Perk Badger aping James Brown, and the Nasty Dog Catchers showing off soulís absurdist side.
It never ceases to astound how many out of the way funk/soul labels and groups there were in the late 1960s, each with a slightly different take on the established formulas. I want to say that there is more variety here than in the garage-rock scene going on at the same time, but Iím nowhere near enough of an expert on either to say. What I do know is that while reissues of ďlostĒ garage rock seem to get more and more unspectacular with every passing release, their soul counterparts always seem to have something new and exciting to offer. Perhaps thatís because the soul scene hasnít been mined to the same depths that the garage scene has, or maybe because the rhythms of funk and soul are somehow more forgiving of repeated use and abuse ... or because the sound quality is always just a little bit better ... or because this music hasnít infected the contemporary underground rock scene to the same extent. Regardless, I can always tap my feet to Numero Group reissues, and this one provides many such opportunities.