Local Record Reviews 

Stax vs. Motown is, of course, one of the past century's great cultural rivalries, up there with Yankees/Red Sox or Beatles/Stones. In the decades since the Memphis soul label and its Detroit counterpart receded from the center of pop music production, critics and fans have continued to make great sport of pitting these institutions — the twin oracles of '60s/'70s black culture — against each other.

Soulsville Sings Hitsville presents different approaches to the Motown style. One of Stax's strengths relative to Motown has always been the greater depth and consistency of its catalogue, manifested in more compelling minor artists and non-hit recordings, but on this compilation, Stax artists mine obscure Motown in addition to the identifiable hits. David Porter delivers a great reading of the Stevie Wonder album cut "I Don't Know Why I Love You," while the Staple Singers do a bluesy reworking of the minor Tempations hit "You've Got To Earn It."

More interesting is hearing Stax artists confront more familiar Motown material. The Soul Children reconfigure Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" for Sunday-morning service, putting a different emphasis on the "delivered" of the title. Even more daring is Margie Joseph's reworking of the Supremes' signature hit, "Stop! In the Name of Love," a deconstruction of a pop-song staple similar to (if less titanic than) Otis Redding's version of "Try a Little Tenderness."

The Joseph version adds a spoken-word intro, turning the trademark Motown hit into a dramatic set piece that references both pre-Supremes girl groups and the pulpit-style soul monologues of Clarence Carter or Solomon Burke. Structurally, this version takes the sleek, elegant Motown composition and plays around with it, taking it apart and pulling it back together with baritone background vocals and churchy piano fills in the mix. It doesn't confirm Stax's superiority to Motown, but it's absolutely a testament to the Memphis label's creativity and ingenuity. — CH

Grade: A-



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment



Beyond the Arc


News Blog

Public Picks Zoo Parking Lot Plan

Politics Beat Blog

Left Activists Intrude on Meeting of Shelby County Democrats

Politics Beat Blog

GOP Figure Bill Giannini Killed in Car Crash

Politics Beat Blog

Mackler Out of Senate Race, Yields to Bredesen

Beyond the Arc

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 6

News Blog

Cooper-Young Nears Historical Landmark Status

Intermission Impossible

Bad Santa: Tennessee Shakespeare turns Godot into a Holiday Hellscape

Hungry Memphis

New Central BBQ to open


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation