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The Rita Wright Years - Rare Motown 1967-1970

Artist: Syreeta

Label: Kent

By Charles Waring | 04 January 2017

Motown deemed Syreeta's name too strange and exotic to connect with record buyers, so persuaded the angelic-voiced Pittsburgh chanteuse to assume the moniker, Rita Wright, for her debut single, the Ashford & Simpson-penned, 'I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You,' in 1968. The result? The single bombed spectacularly, even though it was a damned fine tune, proving that Motown's theory that her name would be a barrier to success was deeply flawed.

Sadly, the label lost faith in the former receptionist-turned-singer and didn't release anything else by her - even though she cut a raft of songs during the same period - until 1972, by which time she was Stevie Wonder's wife and had reinvented herself as a singer/songwriter. More importantly, perhaps, by then she went under her real name, Syreeta, and ironically enough, began to taste success as an album artist. Plenty is known, then, about the recording career of Syreeta but very little has come to light so far about the time she masqueraded as Rita Wright. Now, though, this new, revelatory, compilation fills in the gaps and illuminates the mystery of the singer's early Motown years.

It transpires that Syreeta cut a slew of tracks as Rita Wright, most of which have been gathering dust in the archives until now. The folks at Ace's Kent imprint have exhumed 24 songs in all from the Hitsville vaults, including 18 that have never been released before. It's a staggering cache of buried treasure and includes songs helmed by noted Motown producers, Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, Ashford & Simpson, Stevie Wonder, Hal Davis, Ivy Joe Hunter, Hank Cosby, and several others. The quality of the material and performances is uniformly strong so it's utterly mystifying why Motown sat on all these tracks and was reluctant to issue them.

Highlights are plentiful; among them the funkafied and catchy Stevie Wonder co-penned 'Ain't I Gonna Win Your Love'; a vibrant cover of Chris Clark's anthemic 'I Want To Go Back There Again'; the pleadingly dramatic  'It Don't Mean Nothing To Me'; and a stirring rendition of Laura Nyro's late-'60s protest song, 'Save The Country.'  Also featured are some tunes - featuring Syreeta's demo vocals-  that the Supremes would go on to record, the most famous of which is 'Love Child.'

Tony Rounce's informative liner notes add to the pleasure that this stupendous collection of music will give Motown collectors. Syreeta would go on to bigger and better things, of course, in the 1970s, but this is where it all started for her.

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