Stax records is synonymous with Soul music, so it’s not surprising that this reissue of a 1969 duets record is soulful. However, the deletion of some tracks from the original album on this single disc, and the addition of three other that includes a Dusty Springfield and Spencer Davis cover of “Private Number” and a pair of tracks from 1968 Delaney and Bonnie sessions, is puzzling. Why mess with a classic?
Then again, this album was always kind of mess. The songs really have nothing is common with each other than the fact that each of them features a duet between a man and a woman. There tracks vary in tone, theme, and topic. The instrumentation and productions don’t match. Even the volumes in which the songs were meant to be played vary, so that one has to adjust the amplification almost every cut.
One could dismiss this recording as a jumbled error by the record company, except this is a Stax production from 1969. This music originates from one of the best-loved R&B labels during the height of its popularity. Many of the artists involved, such as William Bell, Mavis Staples, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, belong on any all-star roster of great Soul artists of the sixties.
Some of the individual songs here show how sweet and luscious the music from this era can be. William Bell and Carla Thomas improvise romantically for more than two minutes after singing the lyrics of the old Everly Brothers hit, “All I Have to Do is Dream” and make the chaste country-style reverie sensual through their soft vocalizations. Eddie Floyd and Mavis Staples declare their mutual commitment on “Never Let You Go” as if they were praising the lord on a Sunday morning. They make love into something holy and earthy at the same time.
William Bell and Judy Clay’s “Private Number” is probably the best known song from this collection as it was a minor success but some of the titles here are better known by other R&B artists. With the help of an insistent conga beat and blaring Memphis horns, William Bell and Mavis Staples tear up, “I Thank You”, with which Sam and Dave had a big hit. Eddie Floyd and Mavis Staples turn the heart-wrenching anthem “Piece of My Heart”, most associated with Janis Joplin, into a melodious give-and-take love duet.
The album has a few missteps, including a “Soul-A-Lujah” jam in which all of the participants get together to celebrate Soul music. The result is trite: “Beep-beep / Ungowah / We got the soul power”, they sing unconvincingly. You can tell that the producers desperately want to get themselves a hit. The desperation gets in the way. The record is best when the individual performers are allowed to shine. When they do, such as when William Bell and Mavis Staples go at it on “I Ain’t Particular”, the results are first rate.
There are more worthwhile tracks than mediocre ones here. While not every song holds up, enough of them do to please anyone who loves the Stax sound from this era. Stax should have reissued the album in its original format, but this still has enough good stuff to please most Soul fans.