Various Artists: Loma – A Soul Music Love Affair Volumes 1 – 4

Future Days Recordings gives us four wax platters that uncover a soul label that time has essentially buried.
Various Artists
Loma: A Soul Music Love Affair, Volume One: Something's Burning 1964-68
Future Days Recording

Although the Warner Bros. record division had almost collapsed in the early 1960s it showed signs of recovery in the year the Beatles first took to American shores. To capitalize on the soul and R&B market, the future home of Black Sabbath and Van Halen launched a subsidiary focused on 45s intended to reach the African American market. Low overhead meant greater potential for profits. Bob Krasnow, a veteran of several smaller R&B imprints oversaw the launch of this new home called Loma.

Between its formation in 1964 and its 1968 demise, Loma issued more than 100 singles and fewer than 10 LPs. There were no hits and so its folding was seemingly inconsequential. Less than a decade later England’s Northern Soul boom became a haven for music Americans had cast aside and Loma was its crown jewel. UK Warner Bros. ordered up a couple compilations and watched as they sank without a trace. Four decades on, Loma lives again thanks to this four-volume collection. Each of the four discs is arranged thematically, providing the listener with a heightened sense of adventure.

The first volume brings together the best-known and best-loved sides the label had to offer. Ike and Tina Turner’s 1965 rendition of the Frank Wilson and Frank Gordon tune “Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You” lacks the Acid Queen fire of the couple’s later hits and rave-ups, but it’s still better than most. Tina sounds powerful and the rhythm section finds a quick and insistent groove that propels the track. All that’s aided by an irresistible hook and some gospel-inspired lyrics. But the final judgement comes that it is restrained, just a half step off from breaking down the door and demanding to be Number One. In fact, a terminal politeness pervades many of the early sides, relegating them to would-be contenders.

Charles Thomas’ “The Man with the Golden Touch” could have been a hit a decade later, even with its cornball production or perhaps even because of it. The Apollas’ “Pretty Red Balloons” is danceable and sweet and completely married to its time. Bob & Earl’s “Everybody Jerk” is a dance craze cash-in that never saw release here and only came to light in the UK after the duo struck gold with “Harlem Shuffle”.

Vocal group the Olympics’ smashing rendition of the Rudy Clark/Artie Resnick song “Good Lovin'” almost makes the 1966 version from the Young Rascals sound like unapologetic bubblegum. That is until a weird, Latin-ish interlude before the final chorus that sounds more like Tijuana Brass than a band with brass balls. Linda Jones, though, doesn’t lack those on the closing number, “My Heart Needs a Break”. Her delivery leaves little doubt as to how she became one of Aretha Franklin’s favorite singers. She crops up a few time across this sprawling compilation and each time is a delight. Jones was afforded a full-length album, one of the few from Loma who crossed that line. Her career was cut short when she died in 1972 from diabetes-related compilations.

Jones’ exiting number leads the way for the best Loma sides to come into focus. The second collection is rife with rough and tumble numbers such as “Get in the Groove” (the Mighty Hannibal), Roy Redmond’s “Ain’t That Terrible” and Carl Hall’s “The Dam Busted”. Jones’ “Hypnotized” (from 1967) opens the third collection and really sends us reeling. It’s not just a move toward more serious and sometimes sadder material, it’s also indicative of life with a new A&R director.

Jerry Ragovoy, an accomplished writer, producer and arranger, oversaw this shift from shoe-gazing apologists to unapologetic stars in the making. Weighty numbers such as Carl Hall’s “He’ll Never Love You”, indicate a new maturity and clarity of vision. At just three minutes the song’s over way too soon and knows it. If you’re a good listener, an attentive listener, you drag the needle back to the start and take the ride one more time.

That material might have more gravity to it but it’s not all sturm und drang. Bobby Reed’s “I Wanna Love You So Bad” has a buoyancy that makes it hard to believe this isn’t a better-known piece. “I’m Your Lover Man” from Little Jerry Williams has all the makings of a classic, its verses and choruses rising and falling in all the essential places. Bob & Earl’s “Just One Look in Your Eyes” gives us a lost make-out classic. Ragovoy’s “If I Told You Once (I Told You a Million Times)”, performed by Ben Aiken, is meticulously written and executed. In the few minutes of our lives that it occupies we’re exposed to more truths about matters of the heart than we would likely hear elsewhere in the space of a lifetime.

The fourth collection also smacks of this confidence, especially on Artie Lewis’ “Ain’t No Good” and Carl Hall’s “Like I Told You”. There’s schlock there too, namely the Teen Turbans with “We Need to Be Loved” and Bill Storm’s psychedelic overdose, “I Never Wanna Dream Again (There Is a Garden)”. The Romeos, on the other hand, offer the just-weird-enough “Mon Petite Chow” which is two minutes and change of seductive Afro-laced power, reminiscent of Roland Kirk’s forays into demolishing Top 40 music. A few familiar names appear there too: Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson co-wrote “Just Can’t Get Enough” with Jo Armstrong, which the Apollas recorded and Mac Rebennack’s name’s attached to Dick Jensen & The Imports’ “Back in Circulation”.

Taken as a whole this compilation provides fun for curiosity seekers who want to know more about these rich characters and the music they made. Luckily, there are detailed liner notes and contemporary press clippings to light the way. It’s a must for the soul enthusiast and the seeker of lesser-known artefacts from one of American music’s most fertile times.

RATING 8 / 10