Spellbound

Artist: Brenda Holloway

Label: Soul Music Records

By Charles Waring | 03 October 2017

 

Revered as a cult heroine by the Motown cognoscenti, sultry-voiced Brenda Holloway only spent five years with Berry Gordy's iconic label but in that time recorded a slew of tracks, many of which never saw the light of day during the California singer's tenure with the company. Joining Motown as a 17-year-old in 1963, Holloway scored her first US hit, 'Ev'ry Little Bit Hurts,' in 1964 and enjoyed six R&B single chart entries in all, including, in 1967, 'You've Made Me So Very Happy,' which she co-wrote and was later a big hit for jazz-rock band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, in 1969

 Although Holloway had two albums released by Motown - 'Ev'ry Little Bit Hurts' in 1964 and 'The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway' four years later - she left even more, and sometimes much better, material in Motown's vaults. Why so music great music was left on the shelf gathering dust is not fully known though it's suspected that Berry Gordy's focus was on The Supremes, a move which left Holloway to wither away in their shadow. Given that scenario, it's no wonder that she left the company under a cloud in 1968. But the silver lining behind that cloud is this superlative compilation, which is subtitled 'Rare And Unreleased Gems,' and presents 33 highly coveted tracks across 2 CDs.

It was always rumoured that Holloway had been a prolific recording artist for Motown but it wasn't confirmed until researchers scoured the Motown vaults at the dawn of the 21st century for a series of compilations of previously unissued material called 'A Cellarful Of Motown.' Four volumes in that series unearthed some fine Holloway rarities as did the 2005 compilation, 'The Motown Anthology,' a 2-CD set devoted to the singer's work for Berry Gordy. Now, though, more unreleased material has been discovered in the seemingly endless Motown vaults and much of it is priceless. It's not all perfect though - the opener, for example, the catchy but slightly raw 'Deep Freeze,' is a not-so-clever re-write of Martha & The Vandellas' 'Heat Wave,'  but that is the exception to the rule as more often than not, the wheat outweighs the chaff here.

Indeed, there's so much good stuff that it seems almost churlish to single out individual cuts. 'Can't Hold The Feeling,' though, is a track that demands to be mentioned - it's a driving, archetypal Motown groove but packed with emotional drama and an immense vocal from Holloway (it's shame that the track peters out so abruptly on the final chorus, which gives it an unfinished quality). There's an Aretha-like quality to the funkafied 'Having A Little Talk With Myself' - one of the standouts on CD2 - and 'You Are My Chosen One' has a Supremes-like aura with its big anthemic chorus. Talking of the Supremes, 'The Star' on CD 1  is Holloway's demo of a song for a Disney album that the group shelved. Other highlights include the carefree dancer, 'Lucky My Boy,' the plaintive ballad, 'You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine,' and the earthy mid-tempo track, 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking.'

For Holloway fans and Motown ones, too, this is nothing less than a cornucopia of spellbinding  riches. It also provides compelling evidence that the singer from Atascadero, California,  was one of the very best female vocalists ever signed by Berry Gordy.

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