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Charlie Whitehead

Rare Grooves

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There's a reason why pop's one-hit wonders and coulda-been contenders don't inspire the same level of fervor as their soul equivalents. It's in the very nature of the term "soul," which prompts emotionally weighted terms: "passionate," "gritty," "authentic," etc. (Try applying those to have-a-nice-day pop merchants like Gilbert O'Sullivan or Edison Lighthouse.) Virginia's Charlie Whitehead could be a poster boy for this argument.

The gifted vocalist, working with mentor Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams Jr., issued a string of records in the 1970s, eventually brushing the Top 100 in 1975 with "Love Being Your Fool" before dropping out of view. Now comes Songs To Sing: The Charlie Whitehead Anthology 1970-76, issued by venerable UK archival label Kent/Ace.

Raw Spitt, cut in 1970 at Macon's Capricorn Studios with a crack session band that included Dogg on piano (he also wrote most of the material), is here in its entirety. Highlights include the Otis Redding-like "Raw Spitt" -- Whitehead's phrasings are uncannily similar to Redding's -- and the gospel-flavored funk of "Call Me Nigger," a say-it-loud anthem oozing gritty (aha!) confidence and pride. Southern soul aficionados will also cheer an obscure Wilson Pickett cover, "This Old Town." Somewhat less riveting is 1973's Charlie Whitehead & the Swamp Dogg Band, split evenly between instrumentals and vocals, although the nine-minute "Let's Do It Again, Parts 3 & 4" is pure extemporaneous funk (check the faux-orgasmic female backing vocals). There's also a handful of rare 45s, notably 1971's "Songs To Sing," a socially-conscious ballad that again finds Whitehead channelling Redding.

Painstakingly outlined in the 16-page booklet is the Whitehead-Swamp Dogg story, and when liner notesman Tony Rounce tells you that Whitehead is "rated as considerably more than 'great' by the soul cognoscenti," the disc's 21 tracks will make you a believer. Can I get a "passionate," or a "gritty" or an "authentic" from y'all?

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