Of all the various soul scenes, I must say I’m pretty unfamiliar with Chicago. I don’t know to what extent its distinct from other scenes beyond what I hear on this record, because I think this is my first ever (’60s) Chicago Soul record. (My wordpress tags argue otherwise, but I can’t remember what that album would be.)
Mayfield has a strong sense of melody, these songs are certainly catchy to a degree, they also seem to have a degree of musical sophistication that I don’t normally associate with soul, particularly this early. (Some of that is just taking advantage of their voices.) This is soul and so my expectations about lyrics were very low and I must say that Mayfield is definitely above average as a soul lyricist. But my hope that the whole album would be full of social comment was not fulfilled, alas.
For the most part the arrangements are just way too slick and polished for me. When they’re not, they sound older. (“Can’t Work No Longer” sounds like it’s a Sam Cooke song or something like that and feels kind of out of place with the brass- or string-heavy stuff on the rest of the record.) Without actually knowing it sure feels as though Chicago Soul was one of the sources of the over-the-top productions for Philly Soul.
I like the contrast of their voices and I find Gooden in particular reminds me of a slicker version of certain Chicago blues singers, which adds something I wasn’t expecting. But I still would like to see a little more grit. Their voices have a very polished style which feels like it belongs in Motown, though obviously the music isn’t that poppy.
Overall, I get why Curtis Mayfield got attention and I understand why people like this group, but they are definitely not for me. I like a lot more grit in my soul music.
7/10 I guess