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V/A - Soul Sides Volume Two: The Covers

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Artist: V/A

Album: Soul Sides Volume Two: The Covers

Label: Zealous

Review date: May. 18, 2007

As CD sales continue to wane, music lovers discover more and more channels through which to sample and collect music new and old, popular and obscure. Aside from filesharing services such as redacted, the most talked-about new-media music clearinghouses are regularly updated sites posting MP3s, commonly called “MP3 blogs.” Existing in a legal grey area, MP3 bloggers post selections (often for a limited time) representing a favorite genre, or whatever happens to be a favorite genre that day. Like the superstar DJs of old, these self-appointed aggregators, especially high-profile, highly linked tastemakers such as Oliver Wang of soul-sides.com, have changed the way we…

Oh, fuck it. It’s the internet. People download MP3s from the internet and don’t pay for them. It’s cluttered with MP3 blogs, most of which lack any sort of depth, character or vision. But it’s all free, so why complain? More music, always. New stuff. Old stuff. Big fucking deal. Silly scene politics aside, most MP3 blogs don’t develop hardcore followers because they don’t dig that deeply, don’t post that regularly, and don’t have much to say about the secrets that they find. It’s college radio for the aughties. Which is to say that when it’s strong, when it’s some nerd’s all-consuming obsession that transcends status anxiety, it can be fascinating, or rock a party in an unexpected way. But you don’t want to count on that.

Oliver Wang has kept expanding and intriguing his audience because he’s kept expanding and deepening his concept of “soul.” Between all of the harmonized laments, heavy psych-funk oddities and Latin lineoleum-scuffers, he keeps his standards high and his analyses articulate, but manages to be just uneven and inconsistent enough to be consistently engaging. Particularly when he posts cover versions. This comp collects 14 of his hottest scores you may have heard before.

Sequencing a CD is a different game from running an MP3 blog, without as many wild cards. MP3 bloggers can post tracks that their more dilettantish listeners won’t actually hear for months, when they come up on the Party Shuffle bookended by completely different companions. On this comp, Wang starts broad and gets nerdier as he goes, which means that most of the immediate pleasures for non-diehards are near the top, and the most powerful surprises are used up rather quickly. After Sharon Cash’s tormented “Fever,” Al Green’s sublime “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and Esther Phillips’ crushingly understated read on Gil Scott-Heron’s junkie lament “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” a protracted instrumental version of “Walk On By,” in modest emulation of the towering Isaac Hayes version, isn’t going to be that interesting.

As the party progresses, less committed listeners may find themselves digging through Wang’s site to see if his scholarship can lend some insight. Maybe that’s the point. But, at its best, this stuff doesn’t need to be understood, just dug.

By Emerson Dameron

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