Various Artists
The Sound of Soul: The Sue Records Story

I'm no Dave Marsh. I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of early '60s soul and rock. The Shirelles or whoever didn't change my life by perfectly capturing my wistful teenage angst (one doesn't have a lot of teenage angst when one's age is still being reckoned in months and diaper sizes). I haven't written any books, and, after all, you're not reading Marsh's Rock and Roll Confidential. Nonetheless, I've always loved '60s soul as much or more than the next guy and will quickly agree with Marsh that it's too often overlooked as one of the wellsprings of rock and roll, and I'd even argue that the Beatles v. Stones preference tells less about a person than Motown v. Stax.

All of which is to say that I was humbled by the task of listening to The Sue Records Story. Simply put, the boxed set contains a lot of great music I hadn't heard, and in some cases hadn't even heard of (much of the stuff has been out of print for years). It's a revelation to hear it now.

Sue impresario Juggy Murray seems to have been just one Diana Ross or Booker T. short of being a dominant force in sixties soul. A large number of the singles collected here were hits, but unlike Motown's boxed set, it's not a string of number ones. Murray founded Sue in New York City before Berry Gordy got his Tamla/Motown ball rolling, and quickly built it into one of the most successful black-owned businesses in the country. These days, Sue is remembered primarily as Ike and Tina Turner's first national label ("Proud Mary" was recorded after the duo bolted Sue for greener pastures) -- a narrow conception this set ought to correct.

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Re-mastered and cleaned up, the music sparkles; extensive liner notes put the tracks in historic and artistic perspective. The Ike & Tina Turner contributions turn out to be more than mere portents of things to come -- on all four discs, Ike delivers classic soul both with Tina and his own Kings of Rhythm. Mamie Bradley's "I Feel Like a Million" will have you feeling that way, too, and the Blenders' "Graveyard" is a direct precursor to the Zombies' "She's Not There." Jimmy McGriff's funky organ instrumental tracks are hard to beat. The novelty hits, including Bobby Hendricks' "Psycho" and the Duals' surf-soul "Stick Shift" are still funny after 30 years (one of the virtues of not being overplayed). Baby Washington was the label's resident diva, and the laid-back Prince La La played the jester. Jean Wells' majestic "If You've Ever Loved Someone" will leave you wondering why she doesn't have her own boxed set. Of course, not every track is a treasure, but the pleasures revealed in The Sue Records Story are happy reminders of why we have boxed sets in the first place.

-- Peter Kelly

Doctor Dre and Ed Lover
Back Up Off Me

A tried-and-true comic pairing of fat guy and tall guy, Doctor Dre and Ed Lover have parlayed their hip-hop Laurel and Hardy shtick into stardom. As MTV hosts, New York City radio jockeys and a bankable movie duo, Dre and Lover are two of the most recognized names and faces in rap. They're personalities first and rap icons only by association, so it's not surprising that their first joint musical effort rests on the unsteady ground between jokey novelty cash-in and an attempt at straight-up hip-hop ride. Though each boasts a musical past (Dre, most notably, DJ'd for the Beastie Boys and Original Concept), neither possesses inordinate skills at the mike. They are good enough rhymers, though, to take us on a tour of hip-hop past and present, from the opening title track and "Knowledge Me Again," which borrow old-school lyrics and beats, to "It's Goin' Down" and "East Coast Sound," which grasp for legitimacy on the reps of guests like Eric Sermon and Lords of the Underground. Styles vacillate from the junior high lowbrow of "Tootin' on the Hooters" to the faux hard-core defense of gangster rap in "Recognize." Though the two spread themselves too thin, the points they earn for friendliness and lack of pretension remind us of what we like best about them anyway.

-- Roni Sarig

Everyone's Got One
Rhythm King/Sony

Post-punk lives again -- along with the riffs and wails of all your favorite Brit rockers of the last decade -- in the stylish grooves of London's Echobelly. Though they've hardly been laid to rest, the sounds of the Thatcher era burst unabashedly from Everyone's Got One, the band's solid, if derivative, debut. From the Johnny Marr churn of "Bellyache" to the Jam crunch of "I Can't Imagine the World Without Me" to the Cure-like choppiness of "Father Ruler King Computer," Echobelly's guitar rock surges with the same energy that made the band's precursors worth copying. Then there's Sonya Aurora-Madan, the pixie-ish Anglo-Asian singer, who combines the moans and swoons of classic Morrissey with the siren call of Debbie Harry.

While trendy English bands rarely outlive the shelf life of their over-hyped debuts, Echobelly's earnestness gives it an outside chance at survival; whether or not the band has anything new and interesting to say, it plays with an urgency that draws in listeners. Socially conscious themes of racism, drugs and abortion spot the landscape of Everyone's Got One, but the overall 'tude is simply female and strong, resting on the shoulders of former kickboxer Aurora-Madan and Debbie Smith, the band's androgynous lesbian guitarist (formerly of Curve). Echobelly's take on rock is typically British and uncommonly welcome.

-- Roni Sarig

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