CD Reissue Review: South Side of Soul Street – The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976
Stax, American Sound, FAME, Hi and Muscle Shoals Sound are all rightly famous studios, as are the artists who recorded there and the records they produced. But Valparaiso, Florida’s Playground Recording Studio and its associated Minaret label should be just as famous. From 1967 through the mid-70s, producer Finley Duncan waxed a series of soul singles that are as good as they are rare and highly prized by collectors. Incredibly, much like Leiber & Stoller’s Daisy/Tiger labels, Minaret’s soul sides failed to make even a faint mark on the charts. But the lack of commercial impact wasn’t due to a lack of goods: Minaret had records that were the equal of Stax, Atlantic or Hi, including B-sides that were as good (or in some cases even better) than their plug sides. How these records have remained unknown to all but the most dedicated crate-diggers is a mystery.
Minaret’s artists won’t roll off the average listener’s tongue, but even a cursory spin of these archival treasures will alert your ears to something big that was missed the first time around. Otis Redding, meet Big John Hamilton; Wilson Pickett, say hello to Genie Brooks; and if you’re one of the arranger-songwriters who brought life to Stax, you should probably get to know club member R.J. Benninghoff. Minaret’s house band was even more obscure than the studio’s performers (if that’s really possible), but – amazingly – the musical equal of the bands found at FAME and Stax. Bill Dahl’s detailed liner notes provides some detail on the players and their backgrounds, but it’s so completely revelatory as to almost feel like a hoax; as if someone wrote fictional histories for a make believe Pebbles volume of soul.
A rundown of the set’s best sides would list just about every track in the 2-CD collection. Though not every song, vocal or instrumental performance is equally strong, there’s something in each and every recording that’s worth hearing. Special mention must go to the B-sides, which include both vocal tracks and instrumentals; there were much more than throwaways meant to goose airplay of the A-sides. Omnivore’s forty-track set collects both sides of twenty singles, all but three mastered from the original analog tapes. “Juanita,” “I’ll Love Only You” and “Don’t Worry About Me” were mastered from original 45s, and sound fine. The twenty-page booklet includes liners, photos, label reproductions and discographical information. This is easily the year’s greatest surprise so far, and leading the race for the best reissue.