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Divinity RecordsUNRELEASED – scheduled for
Divinity 99008 (B), September 1963

B-side of We Shall Overcome

(Traditional)


There’s a good argument for calling this the most obscure recording in the Sixties Motown catalogue: the flipside of a cancelled single, We Shall Overcome (which was itself later reissued in 1968 as a B-side, to a speech by Dr Martin Luther King, no less), never released in any form until The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 box set, and by an artist almost completely unknown to the general listening public.

Liz Lands, born in the Georgia Sea Islands and supposedly possessed of a five-octave vocal range, is popularly believed to have cut reams of this sort of “operatic gospel” stuff during her brief spell at Hitsville, only to be denied when Motown decided to shutter its gospel subsidiary Divinity Records and get out of the market. Along with the A-side (which, as mentioned, did at least get its moment in the sun five years later), this is pretty much the only evidence ever released to remind people those sessions even took place.

It’s slightly less horrible than the A-side, in that while Liz is still doing some of the uncalled-for opera/gospel crossover schtick that had ruined that record (turning in a very high soprano part, belting right up to the top of her considerable range and then going past it to gain a very shaky foothold on the little-sung notes at the upper limits of comfortable human hearing), it’s more restrained, it fits in better (given the presence of a loud, strident gospel choir), and it’s tempered with more contralto passages that show Liz had a very capable “standard” R&B singing voice when she wasn’t doing the amateur operatic stuff.

It’s still not very good, though.

All too often, everyone singing on the record – Liz, the choir, everyone – abandons the carefully-arranged vocal charts (which had made a passable midtempo clap-along gospel number out of this traditional old standard), instead indulging themselves in the vocal equivalent of a “free swim” at the end of a school swimming lesson. Everyone drops structure in favour of freedom of expression, and so everything including the kitchen sink gets thrown at the listener in an attempt to add gravitas and “power” – but the effect is usually cacophonous rather than moving.

Luckily, these bits don’t last that long, and while I’d be lying if I said they didn’t spoil the record, they don’t manage to totally destroy it. The effect isn’t particularly nice, but it passes.

Probably better than the A-side, all the same. Trouble In This Land in its raw form is a weaker song to start with than We Shall Overcome, but – in the arrangement used here, at least – it’s also more robust and less delicate, the musicians underlining the song’s sturdy, unshakeable foundations, helping it to withstand Liz and the choir vocally scribbling all over it in a much more resilient fashion. Still not really one to dwell upon, and hardly a pleasant experience, but it’s far from being completely unlistenable.

MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT

3/10

(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)


You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.

(Or maybe you’re only interested in Liz Lands? Click for more.)

Liz Lands
“We Shall Overcome”
The Marvelettes
“As Long As I Know He’s Mine”

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