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Issue 1101

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Jean Wells: Soul on Soul (Deluxe Edition) Bbe Records

Jean Wells CD Soul On Soul



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UK release date 12.12.2011

If you know who Jean Wells is, you don’t need me to tell you much about her wonderful music. If she is a new name to you, and you love great soul voices and great soul music, then read on. Think Betty Wright, Aretha, Bettye Lavette………….Jean Wells has without doubt, one of the very best voices in soul music there ever was. Fact.

Jean’s stunning album “Soul On Soul,” has been released by UK label Bbe Records on CD, and gives us a stonking 24 tracks in total, three of which are previously unreleased. This album perfectly showcases just how good Jean was, and if talent should equal success; how she should have been as big as her contemporaries.

I could end this review here and just advise you to go buy this album now, stick it on and thank me, and more importantly Bbe Records later. But Ms Wells deserves more attention, so let’s give you some background and a taster of what to expect on this amazing record.

Jean was born in 1942, in West Palm Beach, Florida and raised in Belle Glade, Florida near the state’s Lake Okeechobee. She taught herself piano. She sang in gospel groups as a child, formed a girl group with friends whilst she was at High School, and turned to secular singing at the age of 17, when she left home and headed for Philadelphia. A city that would become her musical base throughout her career. She sang in the clubs there in the early 60s. She began her recording career for the tiny Quaker Town label. Her first single, “Song Of The Bells,” was successful enough locally that the label released two further releases: “If He’s A Good Man” and “I Know He Loves Me”, neither of which managed to build on the success, and remained unknown outside of the local area.

Jean went back home to Florida, but she returned to Philly to record a single, “Don’t Come Running Back To Me” and “Little Boots” for ABC-Paramount, before heading back south once more. She was discovered by producer Clyde Otis in 1966. He had her signed to New York-based Calla Records by 1967.There she had success with “After Loving You,”' which got into the R&B chart. Two more that year, “I Feel Good” and the more successful “Have A Little Mercy” which featured the Northern Soul classic on the B-side, “'With My Love and What You've Got.”

Jean’s final chart record was in 1968, and further work with other labels was unsuccessful. Despite her amazing voice, and soul in every pore, she was never considered a big name act in those days. Her highest Billboard chart position was 25. The faith of Clyde Otis, a producer and A&R man who had great success at Mercury Records where he had produced Brook Benton, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan in the late 50s, and Clyde McPhatter who he signed to the label in 1960, sustained Jean’s career. Since striking out on his own he had produced some of Aretha Franklin’s pre-Atlantic recordings for Columbia, including “One Step At A Time,” which has recently been revived by soul DJs and producers of re-edits.

With Jean he saw a singer who could be every bit as good as Aretha or Dinah Washington, similar big sounding singers.
It is the music she released with Otis that forms this new retrospective on BBE Records, including most of the singles, and three unreleased tracks. She's prized by the Northern Soulers, but not particularly well-known overall. A decade after joining forces with Otis, she had left the industry and went into the gospel field. It is unknown if she is alive or dead, and if still with us at 70 years old, if she is still singing.

All the tracks here have been re-mastered from the original tapes. The CD is presented in high quality packaging and the three unreleased tracks were discovered on the master tapes. Extensive sleeve notes written by DJ and compiler Dean Rudland. Her biggest hit “Have A Little Mercy” from 1967 opens proceedings, a glorious slice of deep soul, a plea to a lover, whom she is addicted to, but who doesn’t seem to notice. Yet at the time this record only reached number 25 in the R&B charts. Her gospel-trained voice perfectly encapsulating those feelings, while a stark arrangement dominated by an ethereal organ and dramatic horn stabs heightens the unbearable effect this man is having on Jean’s life.

Jean’s first single with Otis is perhaps the most obscure track on this compilation. The deep soul ballad “If You Ever Loved Someone” which was coupled with “Hello Baby, Goodbye Too,” also found here, and released on Juggy Murray’s Sue Records subsidiary, Eastern. It failed to chart, but it spread the word that here was a huge talent.

As Jean worked on new material with Clyde, her producer was sorting out a new label for her to appear on, following the demise of Juggy Murray’s labels late in 1966. He signed a deal with Nate McCalla’s Calla Records. Her first single on the label was the self-written “After Loving You” (track three here) a storming club soul cut with a relentless beat. It was coupled with “Puttin’ The Best On The Outside,” offered here too, which sounded as if it could have been written several years earlier. It was a successful start to her time at the label charting at number 31 in Billboard’s R&B chart. The follow up “I Feel Good” found on this CD at track 12, was another dancer that peaked at number 33. It was the next release that was the big one and “Have A Little Mercy” burst out of the speakers over the Christmas period of 1967, heading to a peak of number 25. On the flip was a glorious northern soul style dancer “With My Love And What You’ve Got (We Could Turn This World Around,)” complete with a vibes-filled rhythm section, selected here.

Otis took the logical step of following “Mercy” with another deep soul ballad; his own “Sit Down and Cry.” Once more, Jean reaches far inside herself and drags every ounce of emotion from the song in a jaw-dropping performance. It was perhaps a little too intense to be popular, and the single became her first on Calla not to make the R&B charts. She returned to the charts with her very next single, though it would be for the last time. This time the lead number “Try Me & See” was firmly up-tempo, written to sound like Aretha Franklin’s then current hits such as “Respect” or Don Covay penned “See Saw”. It reached number 45 backed with “Best Thing For You Baby,”- that B-side not featured on this album.

At this time Calla also tried to capitalise on her success by releasing the album “World, Here Comes Jean Wells,” in 1968, but it sank without a trace and is now a sought after collectors item. Jean released three more singles on Calla, each one either trying to replicate the success of her previous work or the then current sounds in the pop charts. The best of these was her December 1968 “What Have I Got To Lose,” a swaying soul dancer written by Jean, and which in recent years has seen action in the rare soul clubs, here at track 18. BBE have used this as the first single from the album.

Despite Calla losing interest after the 1969 single “Our Sweet Love Turned Bitter,” and B-side “Keep Your Mouth Shut (and Your Eyes Open,” both here, Clyde Otis kept the faith, and Jean’s next single appeared on the Philadelphia independent Volare recycling “Keep Your Mouth Shut,” with the slow funk of: “I Couldn’t Love You More Than I Do Now,” which makes an appearance on the Bbe album. Jerry ‘Swamp Dogg’ Williams Canyon label was where her next single turned up. This was the stridently funky “He Ain’t Doing Bad” and the wah wah laden “Somebody’s Been Loving You (But It Ain’t Been Me.)” These two tracks were recorded in Philadelphia by Earl Young, Norman Harris and Ron Baker. In fine form on this as a re-mastered versions. The trio would become the basis of the 1970s Philadelphia Sound and were on hundreds of classic disco and soul recording, as well as being behind legendary disco group the Trammps. Clyde Otis employed them for what was supposedly lined up to be an album project on Jean, but only five tracks were cut.

As well as the two that appeared on the single, there is the atmospheric “Roll Up Your Sleeves, Come Out Lovin,” on track 17 here, which features a very advanced for the time, synthesiser led backing track, and “Take Time To Make Time For Me.” “Keep On Doing It,” a funk vibe with a Philly swing to the rhythm section. It appeared briefly as a single on Law-Ton in 1972. These were to be the final recordings that Jean made in this part of her career. She made two slight returns to secular music. In 1979 she made the disco/ boogie single “I Just Can’t Stop Dancing” for the Philadelphia based TEC label. Two years later she was back again, still in the city that she called home, for the disco album “Number One” for Sunshine Recordings.

Jean Wells, "Soul On Soul" is ESSENTIAL music, and a must-have for soul fans and those of us who adore unearthing rare grooves and being able to play them to death, without affecting the value of an expensive vinyl find. Don’t ya just love those Bbe peeps?

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