It only takes a verse and chorus of "I Worship the Ground You Walk On" to realize that Jimmy Hughes is one of the most criminally overlooked early maestros of the soul music explosion. This Alabama singer's testifying tenor hits that rare and perfect spot where solemn churchiness and juke-joint grit meet. Here's a long overdue collection that proves Hughes' 1964 hit "Steal Away" might not even be the best record he ever cut.
Evidence Hughes' deeply gospel inflection on "Stormy Monday Blues," his conflicted passion on "Midnight Affair," or the easy sway of "Too Much," and his superbly funky take on the standard "High Heeled Sneakers." The Best of Jimmy Hughes does more than tell the story of this guy who quit his job at the rubber factory to tour with the likes of Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, only to give up on his musical career by the mid-1970s. This also is the story of Fame Records founder Rick Hall and his dedication to music he believed in. And here too is the story of the famed Muscle Shoals sound, which was born and nurtured at Fame Recording Studios. The liner notes tell a skeleton story of how Hall launched Fame and refused to give up on getting a hit out of Hughes. A few more pieces to complete the backstory puzzle would be nice. Still, that's a small gripe.
The eighteen tracks found here ultimately tell the story better than any insert booklet ever could. And if you're wondering: Hughes is alive and well in Alabama, enjoying his second glimmer of stardom. (Fame Records/EMI)
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