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Chitlin Circuit Soul!
Rhino Records CD R2 79999, 2001

Sweet and raunchy

Dan Macintosh

The "chitlin circuit" is probably closer to a metaphor than it is to any actual geographical tour itinerary, and this compilation points back to a time when soul music still had plenty of real grit and lots of sex to it. Fans of the authentic stuff no doubt bemoan the way those memorable down home and gut-wrenching soul sounds of the past, such as the selections found here, have been replaced by the gutless quiet storm of today's "urban" radio. "Chitlin Circuit Soul" mixes a fine sampling of old '70s era Stax-esque material, with a few modern-day nods to the form, and makes a case for how soul music really oughta sound.

Anybody who has kept up with Rhino Record's re-releases of the Atlantic Records soul catalogue will no doubt already have "Cheaper to Keep Her" by Johnnie Taylor, "Woman to Woman" by Shirley Brown and "Walking the Back Streets and Crying" by Little Milton.

But as a bonus, the sixteen tracks on this album also spotlight some of the contemporary recordings now being made by more than a few old timers. Clarence Carter's bawdy "Strokin'" and Bobby Bland's especially sad "Members Only" came out as recently as 1990. They may not be kids anymore, but they've still got it.

The even newer stuff by newer artists is, for the most part, hit or miss. A drum machine wrecks "Still Wasn't Me" by Ronnie Lovejoy, but Sterling Harrison & The New Breed leaves no doubts about their blues credibility on Harrison's blazing "There's a Rat Loose in My House."

Sex, and cheating sex, is the basic theme for much of this music. In our politically correct music world, you might get an impression - from the themes found in contemporary songs - that people just aren't cheating as much anymore. But it takes more than mere 'irreconcilable differences' to make divorce rates soar the way they're currently doing, friend. Nah, these guys and gals of the chitlin circuit were (and are) telling the truth about the dark side of love with these songs, and cheating will always be that impossible-to-kill weed in love's garden.

Many performers included here can still be caught performing on what's now left of the circuit, on the poor side of town in many big cities. It's an album that may make you re-live great moments in black music history, and it might even cause you to investigate performers who are still carrying the circuit's dimming flame. Though I hope it won't make you cheat on your spouse.

Glenn Brooks says... The chitlin' circuit was the black version of the borscht belt, a collection of mostly black-owned night clubs and theaters throughout the south and east. Gospel, jazz, theater and - especially - R&B and soul performers would work these clubs night after night to all-black audiences. And, as this collection suggests, the atmosphere often got steamy.

performers  Bobby Bland: Members Only · Johnnie Taylor: Cheaper to Keep Her · Clarence Carter: Strokin' · Ronnie Lovejoy: Still Wasn't Me · Shirley Brown: Woman to Woman · Tyrone Davis: Turning Point · Bobby Rush: Sue · Wilson Meadows: That's Still My Love · Little Milton: Walking the Back Streets and Crying · Millie Jackson: If You're not Back in Love by Monday · Sterling Harrison & The New Breed: There's a Rat Loose in My House · Z.Z. Hill: Love Is So Good When You're Stealing It · Latimore: Let's Straighten It Out · Carl Sims: I'm Trapped · Marvin Sease: Stuck in the Middle · Betty Wright: Tonight Is the Night Pt. 1

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