Back To... SOUL
But not every artist got to be Presley, nor was every label Stax. The Omnivore label is run by obsessives who seem quite content to comb the states for obscure soul treasures, and their GPS is working quite fine. The South Side Of Soul Street (Omnivore, 2013) collects all the singles released from 1967-76 by the Minaret label of Valparaiso, AL, not far from Tuscaloosa. While nothing they did ever made any kind of national impact, they were something of a mini-Stax, with their own in-house musicians, songwriting, and a homegrown crop of vocal talent on par with anything of the decade. South Side is largely a sampler of hits that should have been. There's an album's worth of stuff on here by South Carolina-born Big John Hamilton, who started out as a guitarist (playing in the road bands of no less than Etta James and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters) but whose vocal talents eclipsed his playing. His 1969 soul take on "Before The Next Teardrop Falls" (which would five years later become Freddy Fender's signature country hit) is a gem, wrought with pitch-perfect pathos. Hamilton's a perfect gutbucket soul singer, just not a famous one.
Other Minaret artists such as Johnny Dynamite, Genie Brooks, and the Double Soul each made fantastic singles for the label, all collected here. But none of these artists had the luck that came to so many other regional soul singers who enjoyed even temporary stardom during this golden era of soul. The label's standard of quality was uniformly high, and this two disc set never gets tired.
So, in a nutshell, that's how I spent my summer vacation. I promise to be incisive in the future, but this season, I wrote music for Sesame Street, ate pork chops and listened to rhythm 'n' blues.