Liner Note Author: Tony Rounce.
Illustrators: Eric Charge; Tony Rounce.
Ace spent three volumes chronicling country-soul, digging out the best country songs sung by soul singers. Their 2016 Out of Left Field: Where Soul Meets Country flips the equation, presenting 24 soul songs as sung by country singers. Compiler Tony Rounce doesn't limit himself to the '60s and '70s, commonly seen as the heyday of country-soul, which is to the collection's benefit; by having this extend all the way into 1993, it forces listeners to reckon with just how deeply the Southern sounds of country and soul are intertwined. Such an extensive time frame does mean that there's a great variety of production styles on display -- Don Gibson's 1978 rendition of "Starting All Over Again" flirts with smooth soft rock, Chips Moman's precise '80s production takes the edge off of David Allan Coe, and Hank Jr.'s 1993 take on "Out of Left Field" has a digital gleam -- but the strength of this collection is how the sensibility shines through the varying sounds. Throughout it all, these country singers -- Bobby Bare, Waylon & Willie, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Jerry Reed, Conway & Loretta, and Johnny Cash are all featured -- not only tackle R&B standards but are informed by soulful phrasing. While some of these singers always have shown a soulful edge -- Ronnie Milsap is as good a blue-eyed soul singer as there is -- the revelation of this wildly enjoyable collection is how both pure Nashville vocalists and outlaws drew lasting inspiration from soul. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine