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.
The original soundtrack for Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty features innocent, classic pop songs that capture the sweetly delusional state of the film's title character. Jula De Palma and Pink Martini's versions of the lighthearted standard "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)" bookend songs like Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool," Ann-Margret's "Slowly," and Della Reese's "Don't You Know," and selections from Rolfe Kent's quirky original score complete this enjoyable companion to one of 2000's most unique films.
The soundtrack for first-time director Jason Reitman's satire of Big Tobacco spin plays like an amiable, city slicker sequel to O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Tex Williams' western swing standard "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette!" kicks things off with a mischievous grin, laying the groundwork for classics from Patsy Cline ("Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray"), Otis Redding ("Cigarettes and Coffee"), the Mills Brothers ("Smoke Rings"), and the Platters ("Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"). The thread is obvious, but the selections sound handpicked rather than researched solely on the basis of their subject matter. Composer Rolfe Kent, who brought such an excellent sense of place to 2004's Sideways, manages to echo the hipster swing of the Mancini-era '60s without sounding regressive, providing Thank You for Smoking with a cheerful brevity that keeps the spin more balanced than fair.