Compilers it seems, are always looking for new ideas for the compilations, that will make their particular compilation standout from the sometimes overcrowded compilation market. Record companies big and small, sometimes perceive compilations as shooting fish in a barrel, an easy way to make quick buck. Having said that, there have been lovingly compiled quality compilations being released this year. So far, this year, some of the best compilations have included Al Kent’s The Best of Disco Demands, Johnny D Presents Disco Jamms Volume 1, Private Wax and Philadelphia Classics-The Tom Moulton Remixes. These compilations represent the creme de la creme of the compilations market. For every compilation of this quality, there are far too many inferior compilations. Sadly, this year has been a particularly poor year for quality compilations. Many of the ideas or themes for compilations are tenuous, sounding as if they’ve been compiled by Alan Partridge.  

Now, with the music industry being forced to reinvent itself, you’d expect record companies, especially major labels, with access to huge back-catalogue’s really making an effort to release compilations with a “wow factor.” Unfortunately that not happening. That’s being left to smaller, independent labels to do so. So with the compilation market not enjoying its finest hour, the music industry trying to reinvent itself and record companies on an extended summer break, finding quality releases isn’t easy. So when I came across Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul a couple of weeks ago, I was hoping my search for a quality compilation was over. Would Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul join the top table of compilations or join the ever-increasing list of also-rans and inferior compilations? 

For the past fifty years, country music has influenced soul music and soul singers. Many soul singers grew up listening to soul music, which would later influence and help shape their careers. Later, they’d go on to pay homage to how country music influenced their early lives. To understand this, you’ve got to go back to the fifties and early sixties. Many soul singers, especially Southern Soul singers grew up in the southern states, listening so to a soundtrack of the country music coming out of Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals on the local radio station. Back then, country music was one of the most popular genres, with singers like Hank Williams, George Jones, Webb Pierce, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline some of the biggest names in country music. Each of singers were influencing the next generation, including a new generation of soul singers. Indeed, Ray Charles was something of a trendsetter, releasing his album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Volumes 1 and 2 albums in 1962 on ABC-Paramount. These albums struck a chord, reaching numbers one and two in the US Billboard 200 Charts. After that, the crossover between country and soul became much more popular during the sixties and seventies. As a result, record companies have often released compilations of how country music influenced soul music. Let’s make no mistake, this isn’t a new idea, far from it. So with similar compilations having been released, Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul isn’t a new idea. However, does the music on Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul separate this compilation from the rest?

Among the twenty-three tracks on Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul are some familiar faces, including some greats of the fifties, sixties and seventies soul music. This includes Southern Soul stars Al Green, Ann Peebles and Candi Staton, who are joined by Arthur Alexander, Percy Sledge, Cookie Jackson, Little Milton, ZZ Hill, Joe Simon and Bettye Carter. Each of these singers cover what’s referred to as a “100% authentic country songs.” Among the highlights are Al Green’s compelling cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Die, Brook Benton’s emotional interpretation of Jerry Lee Lewis’ She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye and James Carr’s heartfelt take on Mel Tillis’ Life Turned Her That Way. Moses and Joshua Dillard’s take on the Curly Putnam and Billy Sherrill penned My Elusive Dreams, which was originally recorded by Tammy Wynette and David Houston is quite irresistible. While these four tracks are some of the highlights of Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul, it’s not just male soul singers who are responsible for the some of the highlights of Behind Closed Doors: When Country Meets Soul. Indeed three Southern belles are responsible for a trio of the compilation’s best tracks. 

On Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul, Southern belles like Candi Staton and Ann Peebles are responsible for two of the compilation’s highlights. Candi breathes new life and meaning into Patsy Cline’s He Called Me Baby. This was a track from Candi’s Stand By Your Man album. Ann Peebles’ interpretation of (You Keep Me) Hanging On was a track from her album I Can’t Stand The Rain. Her interpretation of the song is a mixture of emotion, heartache and hope, and demonstrates just how talented a vocalist Ann Peebles truly is. Bettye Swann take on the Hank Cochran penned Don’t Touch Me, is emotion, heartache and hurt personified. 

Among the other highlights of Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul are Aaron Neville’s version of The Grand Tour, originally recorded by George Jones. Aaron’s version is quite unlike the original, but incredibly soulful and heartfelt. Along with Solomon Burke’s He’ll Have To Go, Percy Sledge’s Take Time To Know Her Don’t Touch Me and Clarence Carter’s Set Me Free, these three tracks are among the best soulful covers of country tracks. Some tracks good as they are, just don’t compare favorably to the originals.

Tony Border’s Gentle On My Mind was written and recorded by John Hartford who won two Grammy’s for the track. I was made famous by Glen Campbell in 1968.

 and Tony’s version is nowhere as good as the original. Similarly, Good as Little Milton’s version of Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Door is, I much prefer Charlie’s version. Then there are a trio of tracks that just don’t work and are among the disappointments of Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul.

Like all compilations, some tracks on Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul disappoint. Millie Jackson’s version of Merle Haggard’s If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday is slightly disappointing, although this is an alternate vocal version. Similarly, The Limelites’ version of Before the Teardrop Falls, is just too sweet, slick and smooth, and isn’t anywhere near as good as Freddy Fender heartfelt version. Joe Tex’s version of Skip A Rope leaves me cold, and I much prefer Henson Cargill’s 1967 version. These three tracks to me are the low-points of Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul and personally, I wouldn’t have included them on the compilation.

So, having told you about Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul, would I recommend you buy the compilation? Well, I’ve mixed feelings about it. Many of the artists included on the compilation are quite predictable, especially artists like Al Green, Ann Peebles, Candi Staton, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge and James Carr. Similarly, some of these songs are hardly hard to find, and are available elsewhere. That’s why I wonder whether this compilation is aimed at occasional compilation buyers, as it’s hardly a collection of hard to find hidden gems? The idea of country music’s influence on soul is hardly a eureka moment, in terms originality. Getting onto the music, yes, there’s some great music on Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul, albeit with a few disappointments. Okay the good tracks outnumber the disappointments, but add in the predictable tracks and its a close run thing.  Separating the fact that this “concept” isn’t original, with the standard of the music, I’d say the overall standard music on Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul means it’s worth buying the compilation. For many lovers of soul music, they’ll have many of the tracks on either the original albums or other compilations, I know I have. Maybe the compilers should’ve dug deeper, but in doing so, they’d have missed the occasional compilation buyer, who seeing a few familiar names, buys the compilation on spec. What I would say though, is Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul is a decent primer for anyone wanting an introduction to country music’s influence on soul music. For the more serious soul fan, then I’d think that they’ll have many of the tracks on Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul and the compilation won’t appeal to them. 

Maybe the compilers should’ve tried harder when coming up with a theme for Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul. In such a saturated compilation market, in especially economically trouble times, people will be picking and choosing what compilations to buy. When a compilation offers very little in the way of new and compelling music they’ll look elsewhere. Sadly, good as Behind Closed Doors: Country Meets Soul is, it certainly won’t be finding its way into my list of best compilations of 2012. Standout Tracks: Ann Peebles (You Keep Me) Hanging On, Al Green I’m So Lonesome I Could Die, James Carr Life Turned Her That Way and Candi Staton He Called Me Baby.


Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul

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