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Soul Masters: BBR Reissues Edwin Starr, Gap Band, Yarbrough and Peoples, Boys Town Gang

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Edwin Starr - Soul MasterFor its latest batch of reissues, Big Break Records travels back in time to the days when The Sound of Young America ruled the airwaves with two vintage titles from the late, great Edwin Starr, and returns to the catalogues of two more label favorites – The Gap Band and Yarbrough and Peoples!

Ultimately, Edwin Starr (1942-2003) will forever be best-known for his incendiary 1970 recording of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s “War,” a scorching protest song that tapped into the growing unrest of the American public in the Vietnam era.  Starr’s intense, no-holds-barred delivery transformed a Temptations album track into one of the most indelible recordings of all time.  “War” went all the way to the top of the pop chart in the U.S. and earned its vocalist a Grammy nomination, and spawned cover versions by everybody from Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Bruce Springsteen.  Starr was a late comer to the Motown family, joining the label roster in 1968 when Berry Gordy purchased local rival Ric-Tic Records.  Big Break has lavishly expanded his first album at Motown, Soul Master, along with the 1971 record featuring “War,” Involved.

Soul Master contained both tracks recycled from Ric-Tic and more recent songs cut at Motown.  From the Ric-Tic catalogue, the album boasted the R&B hits “Agent Double-O Soul” and “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.).”  Unusually for Motown at the time, Soul Master also included numerous songs written or co-written by Starr, including “Oh How Happy,” first recorded by The Shades of Blue and later covered by The Jackson 5.  Other recognizable Motown songwriters represented on Soul Master include Smokey Robinson, Henry Cosby, James Dean and William Weatherspoon, and Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson.  BBR has added a whopping 17 (!) bonus tracks to the original 12-track album, primarily single releases.

Edwin Starr - Involved1971’s Involved was Starr’s fifth album.  By the time of its release, Motown – like the world – was a very different place.  1971 was the year of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which was released just weeks before Involved.  While Involved lacks the personal vision of that classic, it also very much reflects its time and place with heightened social consciousness.  “War” is joined on the LP by another Whitfield/Strong composition, “Stop the War Now,” and an epic revival of their psychedelic soul masterworks for The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and “Cloud Nine.”  Sly Stone’s equally fiery call to action “Stand!” was also sharply current, but Involved also found room for less urgent material like George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” and a classic Motown throwback with Smokey Robinson’s 1960 Miracles song “Way Over There.”  One more Whitfield/Strong song on the album, “Funky Music (Sho’ Nuff Turns Me On)” could have been Starr’s mantra.  BBR’s reissue, remastered like Soul Master by Kevin Reeves, packs in 13 bonus tracks.  Both titles have new liner notes from Justin Cober-Lake.

With its new reissues of Gap Band IV and Gap Band V: Jammin’, BBR boasts five titles from The Gap Band in its label discography.  Brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson had quite a run.  In 1967, the Oklahoma boys formed the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band, which in 1973 morphed into The Gap Band.  Under that moniker the brothers Wilson remained together until 2010.  Following a short and ultimately disappointing time at Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, the band found initial success on Mercury before transferring to Lonnie Simmons’ Total Experience label with the release of 1982’s Gap Band IV.  The funk outfit was revitalized on IV, with three of the album’s eight songs scoring mightily on the U.S. R&B chart.  “Early in the Morning” and “Outstanding” both reached pole position, while “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” did almost as well with its No. 2 berth.  Like Mercury swansong Gap Band III, the album achieved platinum sales.  It peaked at No. 1 on the R&B album chart and went Top 20 Pop.

After the jump, more on The Gap Band plus Yarbrough and Peoples, and The Boys Town Gang! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 24, 2014 at 10:28