R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

VOICES Notes and news on R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax releases

Soul Of The Church

28 JAN 13 JOHN C. BRUENING

Nearly two decades before Ollie Hoskins and his vocal group -- whose ranks briefly included a teenage David Ruffin -- began recording pop records on Stax in the late '60s, they had firmly established themselves as a tightly harmonized gospel group in their native Tennessee. The transition to secular music prompted a name change from the Gospel Writer Juniors to The Dixie Nightingales, and ultimately Ollie & The Nightingales -- and more importantly, an evolution from traditional gospel to a powerful brand of Memphis soul. A 19-song compilation released 10 years ago includes the group's self-titled 1968 album, combined with four rare singles.

The brassy Stax signature sound is evident from the opening bars of the upbeat "You'll Never Do Wrong," but it's always arranged to consistently serve Hoskins and his crew and never overpower them. The slower, more melancholy tracks like "You're Leaving Me" are just as well balanced, thanks to string arrangements that accentuate the poignant subject matter.

True to their gospel roots, the group is at its best when delivering churning mid-tempo devotionals like "I've Never Found a Girl," "Showered With Love" and "I'll Be Your Anything," all of which are enhanced by some combination of tight horn arrangements and shimmering organ riffs.

Throughout the late 1950s and into the '60s, the best and most authentic soul music consistently came from artists firmly rooted in gospel (see Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and the like). Ollie & The Nightingales, who emerged at the later end of this period, are no exception to the rule. This collection is a snapshot of the brief moment when great music emerged at the intersection of gospel, soul and pop.