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Wednesday, 27 February 2019
The Undisputed Truth - The Undisputed Truth (1971)
Released July 1971
This was The Undisputed Truth's debut album. The group were the creation of Temptations producer Norman Whitfield. Their sound mixed traditional Motown sounds with psychedelic soul and often expressed an awareness of contemporary social issues. They had an infectious, harmonious vocal style and their backing was often more funky than that of other Motown acts. Lead singer Joe Harris had a great voice, but is rarely mentioned when great Motown vocalists are listed. A lot of their material was cover versions of Temptations songs, but often they were lengthy, almost jam-like versions, as opposed to note for note. These were all impressive, but it did mean, however, that the group found it difficult to forge their own identity.
1. You Got The Love I Need
2. Save My Love For A Rainy Day
3. California Soul
5. Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)
6. Smiling Faces Sometimes
7. We've Got A Way Out Love
8. Since I've Lost You
9. Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone
10. I Heard It Through The Grapevine
11. Like A Rolling Stone
"You Got The Love I Need" is a rousing, upbeat, very typically Motown-ish number, with excellent vocals and horns. It actually uses the same backing track as was used on The Temptations' 1965 "I Got Heaven Right Here On Earth". "Save My Love For A Rainy Day" is a soulful, very Temptations-esque song, with vocals that almost be David Ruffin. Again, the song was originally recorded by The Temptations on their 1967 album "A Lot O' Soul". "California Soul" was a Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson song, previously recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, amongst others. Here it is given that harmonious, funky Undisputed Truth treatment.
"Aquarius" taps into the contemporary hippy free spirit thing, man, with a cover of the lively number from the musical "Hair". The Undisputed Truth also were known for extended socially conscious songs and the first one on here is a cover of The Temptations' iconic "Ball Of Confusion". Their version is ten minutes long and pretty different in arrangement to the original. There are similarities, of course, but theirs features more vocal and musical ad-libbing. It out-psychedelics The Temptations, which was no mean feat. They used The Funk Brothers' original, extended backing track that they laid down for The Temptations' version.
"Smiling Faces Sometimes" was most definitely The Undisputed Truth's song (despite The Temptations doing it later). It is pretty much their signature tune. It is a gospel meets street funk, Staple Singers-influenced classic of a song. "Can you dig it"? Sure we can. Great stuff. It was deservedly a hit single for the group. The catchy "We've Got A Way Out Love" was originally done by The Originals in 1969. Up next are two more Temptations covers - the beautifully soulful "Since I've Lost You" and "Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone". The former is a slow soul ballad, while the latter is given an energetic, bassy, funky backing. The vocals and percussion are superb on this. Gladys Knight & The Pips also covered it, by the way.
The Truth's cover of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is punchy and full-on, offering something different from both Marvin Gaye's iconic version and the original, by Gladys Knight & The Pips. It is full of buzzy guitar breaks and pounding drums. The last track is a brave, souled-up, slowed-down take on Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone". It works, however, giving the song a deep, soulful passion.
Much as I have always loved The Undisputed Truth, I feel it would have been better for them if they had been given full albums of songs written especially for them. That is not to say I don't love all their covers, because I do. Everything they do, they do well. Highly recommended. This is a great soul album.
- February 27, 2019