In early 1967 Rick Hall’s Fame set-up was missing a vital ingredient. Despite all the success he had achieved as a producer, studio-owner, publisher and record label boss, he had yet to sign an enduring artist. That was about to change. The previous year a duo who recorded as Clarence & Calvin hired the studio to cut a self-financed single. They had been working together for five years and had just left a deal with Houston-based Duke Records. As he watched them, Hall thought he had found his stars and urged them to come back and sign with him. When the day came, only Clarence Carter appeared. At first, Hall was dismissive of the singer’s pleas to be signed as a solo act but eventually relented and gave him a go.
It may open up with Aaron Neville's 1993 rendition of George Jones' classic "The Grand Tour," but Ace's 2012 compilation Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul focuses on the golden age of country soul – the late '60s and early '70s, the age when the borders between these two strands of southern American music became decidedly blurring. And many of the 23 cuts on Behind Closed Doors are firmly within the Southern soul tradition – slow, smoky, gritty, and soulful, anchored by languid stride piano and buttressed by muscular horns.
Sweet Dreams: Where Country Meets Soul, Ace's second dip into the country-soul well, is every bit as good as its 2012 predecessor. Basically, it's cut from the same cloth as the first volume, concentrating on recordings from the late '60s but stretching deep into the '70s (Millie Jackson's "Sweet Music Man" dates from 1977), with Ted Taylor's 1962 "I'll Release You" and Orquestra Was' 1996 "Forever's a Long, Long Time Ago" functioning as de facto ringers. "Forever's a Long, Long Time Ago" may fit aesthetically but certainly not sonically, as it's a crisp digital blast on a collection devoted to warm, lush, analog soul.
If the release of Cold Cold Heart proves anything, it's that Where Country Meets Soul is one of Ace Records' most popular series of the 2010s. If this third volume proves anything else, it's that the well of country-soul has hardly been tapped dry by compiler Tony Rounce and the label. Apart from a handful of tracks cut in the early '60s right in the wake of Ray Charles' groundbreaking Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music plus a few sides cut in the disco era or later, Cold Cold Heart is firmly grounded in the late-'60s heyday of soul music.
To hear bassist Kent Carter on this '84 recording is to hear the bassist in an entirely different context than anything his work with Steve Lacy and Paul Bley would belie. Always an artist with a penchant for strengthening an ensemble and its collective voice, Carter has comprised his ostensibly "solo" work of exercises and experiments documenting his search for a unified string conception in a group context. The use of overdubbed parts on everything from Ligeti-esque soundmasses to Eastern European folk explorations on his '74 Emanem recording, Beauvais Cathedral, point directly to Carter as something more than a sideman. Of late featuring Albrecht Maurer and Emmanuelle Roch on violin and viola, respectively, the Trio in this early incarnation consists of Carter, Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro (who has since become a mainstay of the Lisbon free music scene), and French violist Francois Dreno. One of the most noticeable things about this string configuration is the replacement of the usual cello with the bass (and Carter is an accomplished cellist as well).