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Monday, May 25, 2009

Various Artists

The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 11B (Hip-O Select/Motown)

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The 12th volume of the ambitious, luxuriously appointed multiple-CD set collecting every single released on Motown Records and its many imprints marks something of an event for Milwaukee music collectors. The label's sporadic cracks at the rock market were especially evident at the dawn of the '70s, and among the recipients of that attention were Milwaukee's The Messengers. The bubble-gum fun of "That's the Way a Woman Is," the band's second Motown-affiliated single, resulted in the group's highest national chart entry before it parted ways with Hitsville U.S.A. This collection carries the first appearance of the song, as well as its promo-only stereo mix and punkier B-side, "In The Jungle," on CD.

Beyond the local connection, however, this five-disc installment of the series captures a time of transition for what had become the nation's most successful independent label. By the end of 1971, Motown moved from its original Detroit digs to Los Angeles. Along with that change came an orientation from being a radio hit factory to championing R&B as album-centered music, which led to great LPs by Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. With the decline of Southern soul music standard-bearer Stax Records and the genesis of the sleek Philadelphia International label, along with the sociopolitical gains made by African Americans at the time, Motown's output acts as something of a time capsule for the era's black experience.

Gaye, The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth and a couple of the firm's other rock acts created "message music" that viewed social causes from various hopeful and jaundiced perspectives. That still left a wide-enough berth for The Jackson 5 to continue making effervescent pop/soul (and launching Michael as a solo artist). Meanwhile, veterans such as The Supremes, The Four Tops and Jr. Walker & The All Stars morphed their more traditional sounds into new times, largely to winning effect.

And if the specter of nuggets by The Messengers, Rare Earth and The Rustix isn't enough to lure rockers to this slice of Motown history, perhaps a couple of tastes of Meat Loaf-back when he was paired with a white gal named Stoney-might do the trick. The big guy had it in him to wail with authority long before Jim Steinman drowned him in studio effects and teen pathos.