Hardcore R&B Fans Will Dig These Epic New Releases

Stax and Ru-Jac records retrospectives dig deep into the archives..

Album Reviews

Various Artists
Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & the Best of the Rest
Craft Recordings

Various Artists
The Ru-Jac Records Story

The great Memphis soul music label Stax has been extensively surveyed in three box sets collecting the A-sides of the company’s singles, from its humble beginnings in 1959 to a messy demise in 1975. But that’s only part of the story. Gathering 155 other tracks, Rarities & the Best of the Rest goes far beyond the classic hits of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes, with three discs of prime R&B B-sides and three more full of recordings from Stax offshoot labels that ventured into other genres, occasionally producing great music and sometimes coughing up duds. The Enterprise label offered everything from country (O.B. McClinton) and funky rock (Don Nix) to easy listening (Billy Eckstine) and jazz (Chico Hamilton). The Ardent and Hip labels featured girl groups (The Goodees), power pop (the immortal Big Star), and flat-out weirdness (The Honey Jug). Chalice and The Gospel Truth labels focused on songs of faith (The Dixie Hummingbirds). If this deep dig is primarily for archivists, plenty of pleasant surprises await patient explorers.

In contrast to the titanic legacy of Stax, Baltimore’s tiny, underfunded Ru-Jac Records had virtually no impact on the R&B scene, though it was responsible for some fine music. Presenting 100 tracks on four separate volumes spanning the years from 1963 to 1980, The Ru-Jac Records Story celebrates obscure standouts like Brenda Jones, Winfield Parker, and Gene & Eddie—all of whom could have become stars in happier circumstances. The biggest name here is Arthur Conley, who went on to work with Otis Redding after leaving the label. Ru-Jac may have been a commercial failure, but its best singles were creative triumphs that still sizzle today.