Liner Note Author: Tony Rounce.
Recording information: Hitsville USA Studio.
Why wasn't the Fantastic Four's album How Sweet He Is released upon its completion in 1970? No definitive answer exists, but all signs point to Motown deciding they'd rather push lead singer Sweet James Epps as a solo act than the group itself (a big clue is the title of the album, which pulls the focus directly upon the lead singer), but scrapping the record derailed momentum not just for the Fantastic Four, but for Epps himself, who never became a solo act. The Fantastic Four resurfaced on Eastbound and then Westbound in the mid-'70s, a few years after Motown cut them loose. Apart from two singles -- "Just Another Lonely Night"/"Don't Care Why You Want Me (Long as You Want Me)" in 1969; "On the Brighter Side of a Blue World"/"I'm Gonna Carry On" the following year -- all this material sat in the vaults. A few cuts leaked out on Motown and Ace compilations in the '90s and 2000s, but Ace's 2015 comp resurrects the scrapped "How Sweet He Is" in its 12-track entirety, adding 13 songs recorded roughly around the same time that never saw the light of day, either. These are all the known existing recordings the quartet made for Motown and it's music worthy of preservation. The Fantastic Four may have gotten the runaround from Motown - not only did their album not come out, they sometimes got secondhand songs -- but they were an excellent, supple harmony group in the tradition of the Temptations (indeed, David Ruffin took "The Double Cross" for his solo debut) and certainly on the same level as the Undisputed Truth. For How Sweet He Is, the group largely worked with William Weatherspoon and James Dean, along with Clay McMurray, and the record has the same lushness of so many late-'60s Motown slabs: it's more luxurious than insistent, which fits the band well. Apart from "How Big Is Your Heart," a Johnny Bristol production that's a throwback to the classic Motown bounce, much of the bonus material is a little more lithe and funkier, bearing the imprint of producers Bobby Taylor and Al Kent, but it's the band that shone: they handled any subtle twist that came their way and, if Motown had prioritized them, chances are they would've had a big hit. That was not to be. Instead, they wound up as one of the label's great cult acts, and this Lost Motown Album is worth discovering, not just by soul fanatics but by anybody that loved the sound of the Motor City at the turn of the '70s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine