Audio Remasterer: Mike Milchner.
Liner Note Author: Gene Sculatti.
Recording information: Atlantic Recording Studios, New York, NY; Atlantic South-Criteria Studios, Miami, Florida; Criteria Studios, Miami, Florida; Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Innumerable Brook Benton compilations appeared over the years but his last great run at Reprise/Cotillion remained relatively undocumented prior to Real Gone Music's 2016 set Rainy Night in Georgia: The Complete Reprise & Cotillion Singles A's & B's. Where 2007's The Platinum Collection mined the years of 1967-1972 for 20 highlights, this double-disc set marches through the discography, offering both sides of every single he released during these six years. Clearly, "Rainy Night in Georgia" is the blockbuster here: not only did it reach the Top Five on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B charts, it's the only one of these singles to crack the R&B Top Ten. A few others came close -- "Nothing Can Take the Place of You" went to 11 in 1969, "Shoes" to 18 in 1971 -- but apart from the song that became a standard most of this material failed to make considerable commercial waves. Of course, "Rainy Night in Georgia" was a big enough hit to overshadow the rest of the music here, but this compilation also shows how the song sat at the intersection of Benton's two styles during this period: the lush adult-oriented MOR of his sides for Reprise and the earthier Southern soul he'd cut for Cotillion. Old pro that he was, Benton could handle both aesthetics without strain, although there are times when he seems a little bit too stuffy to be truly funky on the slow-burning soul that dominates this collection. Which isn't to say he can't ride a groove -- his version of "My Way" is a wonder, a nicely churning groove that undercuts the song's pomposity; "Shoes" is the only other single to achieve this kind of gritty ease -- but he's at home with Joe South's "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" and the pomp of "Heaven Help Us All," songs written in broad strokes so they sustain the theatricality in Benton's delivery. He also works well with country-soul, partially because a song like "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye" exists on the spectrum between grit and gloss, but what impresses on these two discs is the elegance of Benton, a singer so skilled he could adapt to any time and setting without seeming out of place. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine