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The Magic Touch: Kent Label Celebrates 30 Years with Soulful New Anthology

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Kent 30

The Kent label (part of the Ace Records family) is turning 30, and you’re invited to the party.  In a year which has also seen celebrations for labels including A&M and GRP, Kent 30: Best of Kent Northern 1982-2012 stands out as the toe-tapping, floor-filling compilation most suitable for dancing!  With 30 selections in recognition of 30 years from soul greats like Chuck Jackson, Lorraine Chandler, Lou Johnson, Maxine Brown and Ben E. King, Kent 30 takes in previously anthologized tracks from the label’s catalogue as well as alternate versions and remixes.  (Nearly one-third of the CD is previously unreleased.)  It all makes for an enjoyable stand-alone collection of Northern Soul classics and rarities as well as a continuation of the label’s mission to preserve the best soul and R&B anywhere.

Compilation producer/annotator Ady Croasdell, a Kent mainstay from the very beginning, serves as tour guide in the 22-page full-color booklet that accompanies this release.  Croasdell’s notes entertainingly lay out the history of the label, but the real story is in the music, filled with big beats, irresistible hooks, impassioned vocals and potent brass.  All of the tracks on Kent 30 were recorded in the 1960s or early 1970s, but most weren’t heard until the Kent team rescued them from the vaults for one of the various-artists compilations that were, and are, the label’s calling card.

Some of these songs provided the title for beloved Kent compilations, such as Melba Moore’s “The Magic Touch,” recorded in 1966 for Musicor Records but unreleased at the time.  When the track saw the light, though, it became an instant classic.  As Croasdell writes, “if one record epitomizes the Northern Soul scene of the mid-‘80s, it is the thunderous production of ‘The Magic Touch.’”  Here, Kent introduces an alternate vocal from the singer, actress and Broadway star.  Musicor’s output has been anthologized by Kent on collections like Manhattan Soul (of which two volumes have been issued to date) along with New York’s Scepter and Wand labels.  Those labels have provided a true treasure trove for Kent over the years.  Florence Greenberg’s Scepter/Wand empire has yielded tracks including Chuck Jackson’s “I’ll Be a Millionaire,” written by the team of Luther Dixon and Van McCoy, and unearthed by Kent in 1987, and Maxine Brown’s “It’s Torture,” first released in 1985 but newly remixed here.  Another unexpected Scepter treasure is Johnny Maestro and The Crests’ dramatic and atypical “I’m Stepping Out of the Picture” from 1965.

There’s plenty more after the jump, including the track listing with discography, and an order link!

There are some Brill Building gems on the set, too.  Mark Barkan (“She’s a Fool,” “Pretty Flamingo”) wrote the Johnny Maestro tune, while Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were responsible for one of this collection’s most exquisite finds.  Ben E. King’s “Gettin’ to Me,” from 1966, is a consummate example of uptown soul; it, too, became the title song of an Atlantic Records-themed compilation on Kent.  King’s deep voice is at its most resonant in this almost Righteous Brothers-esque production swathed in string, horns, female backing vocals and that New York/Latin atmosphere.

Though all 30 tracks on Kent 30 have in common the urge to get listeners on the dance floor, they’re stylistically varied.  (“Just a Little) Faith and Understanding” from The Magicians has a strong echo of The Four Tops’ “Can’t Help Myself,” but is even more potent in a new 2012 mix.  The smoking “I Wanna Thank You” from The Quotations would sound just fine following Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time,” but you’ll likely be thanking Kent for its inclusion.  Those partaking in the 50th anniversary festivities for the James Bond series of films will be thrilled with the newly-discovered alternate version of Lorraine Chandler’s “You Only Live Twice.”  Croasdell’s notes inform us that Chandler prefers this early stab at the song to the previously-released version, and although it didn’t make the cut for the film of the same name, Chandler’s “You Only Live Twice” betrays its Bond inspiration with its sinuous, sexy horn lines and frenetic brass stabs.

The treats here are too numerous to mention.  Bobby Angelle’s “Too Much for You” has the fire of James Brown at his best, while The Shaladons’ “We Can Do It” might remind you of a male “Come See About Me.”  Kent 30 concludes with a track from the supremely underrated Lou Johnson, Croasdell’s all-time favorite vocalist.  Johnson was an early muse for Burt Bacharach and Hal David, recording the original single versions of such songs as “Message to Martha” (pre-“Michael”), “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” and “Reach Out for Me.”  Croasdell has chosen his “The Panic Is On,” from the Bernie Baum/Bill Giant/Florence Kaye team, also recorded by Roy Hamilton.  It was discovered by Kent in 2010 for the label’s Incomparable Soul Vocalist CD.  Not only is Lou incomparable, but that album is indispensable.  (That album also introduced the stunning ballad “Just Be a Woman,” one of the most Burt Bacharach-esque songs not actually written by the great man.)

It may be unusual to create a compilation of tracks primarily introduced on compilations, but Kent 30 succeeds mightily in celebrating the Northern Soul genre and Kent’s contributions to it.  You can order Kent 30: Best of Kent Northern 1982-2012 below.  Here’s to the next 30!

Various Artists, Kent 30: Best of Kent Northern 1982-2012 (Kent CDKEND 384, 2012) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. (True Love Is) In the Heart – Alexander Patton (previously unreleased)
  2. (Just a Little) Faith and Understanding (Alternate) – The Magicians (previously unreleased)
  3. The Magic Touch (Alternate Vocal) – Melba Moore (previously unreleased)
  4. You Only Live Twice (Original Take) – Lorraine Chandler (previously unreleased)
  5. What Could I Do (Alternate Mix) – Little Ann (previously unreleased)
  6. I’d Be a Millionaire – Chuck Jackson (Kent LP 073, 1987)
  7. Gettin’ to Me – Ben E. King (Kent CDKEND 181, 2000)
  8. Think Smart – The Fiestas (Old Town 1178, 1965)
  9. Love Keeps Me Crying – Walter Wilson (Wand 1153, 1967)
  10. Ooh It Hurts Me (Instrumental) – The Pied Piper Players (previously unreleased)
  11. Oh, My Darlin’ – Jackie Lee (Mirwood 5527, 1966)
  12. Rising Higher – Marva Holiday (previously unreleased)
  13. Sorry Ain’t the Word – The Paramount Four (6Ts 6T 26, 2010)
  14. Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right – The Mayberry Movement (Kent TOWN 113, 2002)
  15. No Limit – Darrow Fletcher (Kent CITY 024, 2012)
  16. I Wanna Thank You – The Quotations (6Ts 6T 27, 2011)
  17. Have Faith in Me – Sugar and the Spices (Swan 4208, 1965)
  18. Try My Love – Tom and the Showmen (Ten Star 103, 1965)
  19. Beauty is Just Skin Deep – The Sweethearts (Kent 428, 1965)
  20. Baby Without You – Gene and Gary (previously unreleased)
  21. Handwriting on the Wall – Bobby Wisdom (Out A Site 011, 1965)
  22. Oh Baby Don’t You Weep – Luther Ingram (Kent CDKEND 291, 2008)
  23. I’m Stepping Out of the Picture – Johnny Maestro and the Crests (Scepter 12112, 1965)
  24. I’m Shooting High (I Reach for the Sky) (Alternate Mix) – O.C. Tolbert (previously unreleased)
  25. Without Your Love – Bobby Penn (Kent CDKEND 326, 2009)
  26. Too Much for You – Bobby Angelle (Money 128, 1967)
  27. Changes – Lilly Fields (Kent CDKEND 326, 2009)
  28. It’s Torture – Maxine Brown (Kent LP 046, 1985)
  29. We Can Do It – The Shaladons (Kent CDKEND 284, 2007)
  30. The Panic is On – Lou Johnson (Kent CDKEND 333, 2010)

Written by Joe Marchese

December 18, 2012 at 10:13

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