Liner Note Author: Ady Croasdell.
Photographers: Chris Brown ; Alec Palao; Tony Rounce.
Arriving five years after Ace's last collection of swinging, sophisticated Northern Soul rarities, the 2015 release Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities, Vol. 5 would seem to offer the expected in terms of sound and feel, if not necessarily names. Happily, that's not necessarily true. Northern Soul has long been a curious situation, where collectors prize rarities but want everything to conform to a certain style, but it's a paradox that drives the entire Northern Soul scene and it still kicks up enjoyable music, as it does here. A few of the singles here are from recognizable names -- a 1970 oddity from Big Joe Turner, a 1964 side from J.J. Barnes -- but the appeal is the sound, not the stars; this is a set where Ray & Dave's "Wrong Wrong Wrong" can be called "relatively common" in the promotional notes, but it's largely unheard by the world at large. Many of these tracks skew toward the end of the '60s or even the early '70s, an indication that the boundaries of Northern Soul have been extended slightly so it can encompass a bit of smooth funk instead of Motown homages. This wider definition of Northern Soul makes Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities, Vol. 5 one of the more entertaining entries, not just in this particular series, but in the style as a whole. Some of this collection still follows a familiar beat but often this is smoother and string-saturated, sometimes edging toward Philly Soul or proto-disco, such as on the Ballads' "Butterfly," where a fuzz guitar pierces the gossamer gloss. This unexpected flair helps keep this collection of rarities compelling and, yes, classy. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine