Gospel-getters and soul-searchers, park your ears here.
Simon Morgan 2004
Motown's 'sound of young America' owes much to Valerie Simpson. In the late 60s, she and husband Nickolas Ashford penned "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and other joyous classics that turned Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell into pop's most loved-up double act. Soon after, their songs launched Diana Ross into solo orbit. So this raft of Simpson's own recordings -combining her 1971 debut album, Exposed, with 1972's follow-up, Valerie Simpson - makes for fascinating, uplifting listening.
Gospel-infused soul prevails, especially on the opener, "I Dont Need No Help". Its a cappella intro sounds like a cry of freedom from the 25-year-old, already pigeonholed by Motown solely as a writer. Sweet melodies, tender lyrics and a beautiful climax sign this as one of the album's eighteen Ashford and Simpson compositions. The two went on to cast the 1984 floor-filler "Solid", and that track's slick sound is foretold in The Collections shimmering production.
OK, Simpson's voice isn't up there with say Aretha Franklin's or Dionne Warwick's. But it's still authentically musical and demands to be heard. For the Bronx-born singer, love conquers all: on sensual slowies like "Back To Nowhere" and "World Without Sunlight", Simpson adores her man. On "There Is A God" and others, she lauds the Lord.
Ballads and mid-tempo arrangements rule, but there are also tracks to strut your stuff to. "Sinner Man "is a Tamla tornado of sitars, trumpets, bongos and guitars. A cover of "We Can Work It Out" has a slow-blues opening, a trippy mid-section and a brass-fuelled finale. "Drink The Wine" is an irresistible force, evoking primetime Gladys Knight and The Pips. Motown's legendary house band, the Funk Brothers, provides a perfect pulse here and throughout.
A few takes, like the over-fussy "Now That There's You", don't really cut it (as the singerconcedes in the discs notes). But the sheer volume of ideas still makes these highly listenable. And when Simpson signs off with the "Mercy Mercy Me"-inflected grooves of "Genius II", you can even sense Marvin's spirit in the mix. Gospel-getters and soul-searchers, park your ears here.