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24-CARET BLACK was the brainchild of DALE WARREN, who achieved soul cred in 1969 with his string arrangements for ISAAC HAYES’s Hot Buttered Soul. Sometimes you listen to reissues of “lost albums” and wonder how they could have been overlooked. Not here. This previously unreleased LP, recorded at the end of Stax’s run, was the abandoned follow-up to a darkly depressing 1973 LP and is even bleaker. Even the one seemingly positive track, “I’ll Never Let You Go,” turns out to be more about unrealistic hope than reality, more desperate addiction than happiness, as its disquietingly orgasmic middle section reveals. This is soul offering little uplift (some hypnotic grooves and the momentum built from insistent repetition) but plentiful painful catharsis.
But love lost, love denied, love unreturned, and love misunderstood are more psychologically interesting than their opposites, so these six anti-love songs (one opens “I don’t love you, I don’t love you, I don’t love you, you know that” repeated over and over), all that could be salvaged from long-stored tapes, are doggedly compelling. Much of this is due to Warren’s studio mastery. He didn’t finish this album, but that hardly matters and may even help, as he achieves big effects without bloated production thanks to an unerring structural sense of how to build climaxes. When the overall aesthetic is stripped down, the big moments shine all the more. It also helps, as always in soul music, that the vocals – shared among PRINCESS HEARN, HEDDA SUDDUTH, NAOMBI STILL, and ROBERT DUNSON – are righteous.
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