Atco Sessions: 1969-1972

by: Lulu

Dusty Springfield thrived when she traveled to Memphis and recorded with producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin and a bunch of Muscle Shoals pros, cutting music that was soulful and successful, so it made sense for Atco/Atlantic to put Lulu, another British pop-soul singer, through the same drill. At least it did on paper, but as Rhino UK's The Atco Sessions: 1969-1972 -- a deluxe double-disc reissue of the 1970 albums New Routes and Melody Fair, buttressed with almost a full album's worth of unreleased material cut with Dowd in 1970, the 1972 single "It Takes a Real Man (To Bring Out the Woman in Me)"/"You Ain't Wrong You Just Ain't Right," some alternate takes and other stray tracks -- the results weren't nearly as compelling as the classic Dusty southern sessions, even if almost every element from those records was replicated here. Lulu is supported by a cast of all-stars -- the Dixie Flyers featuring Jim Dickinson, the Memphis Horns, the Sweet Inspirations do backing vocals, Felix Cavaliere lays down percussion, even Duane Allman shows up on New Routes -- the production is sharp and soulful, and she sings with considerable spunk and sass...and that may be the problem, actually. Whereas Springfield was a nuanced deep soul singer, Lulu's appeal almost always relied on her energy, and while she leans hard on that here, it's not enough to give these records some spark because the setting is too smooth and soulful to be swayed by her relentless good cheer. Even if these recordings are strangely, slightly off, with Lulu's strengths not fitting well with that of the pros, this is hardly bad music: Lulu gives it her all and the productions are impeccable, even if they're not quite engaging, so this is worth a listen for those who value either the singer or the players here. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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