The very title of Ace's 2015 NYC 1961-1966
places the double-disc compilation in the context of Jackie Wilson's career. This set, containing no less than 24 previously unreleased tracks plus an additional rarity first issued in 1987, collects 48 sides Wilson recorded in New York City while working for Brunswick Records with producers Nat Tarnopol
and Eddie Singleton
, favoring rarities over the familiar; several songs make their stereo debut here, while others were unavailable on CD prior to this. During this time, hits came -- "The Tear of the Year," "I'm Comin' on Back to You," and "Baby Workout" all reached the R&B Top Ten, with the latter climbing to number one; only "I'm Comin' on Back to You" is here, along with an alternate take of "Baby Workout" -- but it was a rocky time for Wilson, not least because he was recovering from a gunshot he suffered at the hands of a jealous lover in February 1961. This personal tragedy slowed him down for a good portion of 1961 but it's also true Wilson spent the early '60s pursuing a crossover sound, a highly produced concoction that certainly belonged to the East Coast more than Wilson's Detroit origins. Although producer Rob Hughes does zero in on alternate takes where the sugary backing vocals aren't quite so prominent, these classy flourishes -- along with a slight hint of dramatic supper club ballads -- are hard to excise, as they're part and parcel of Wilson's early-'60s recordings; he was dressing in snappy new threads. Some of these affectations can be a little grating but the alternate takes on NYC 1961-1966
have less of the backing vocals than the finished versions, plus Hughes and his fellow reissue producers have dug up some dynamite hard-hitting soul, highlighted by the cracking "Me, My Mother's Son." Cleverly, the collection is sequenced to highlight such moments of brilliance, dispensing with a strict chronological order so the high-octane "3 Days 1 Hour 30 Minutes" follows "Me, My Mother's Son." There's a pretty high quotient of winners here, too, and they're not just uptempo, either: there are plenty of blues and ballads that are idea showcases for Wilson's soaring vocals. As nicely crafted as they are, they're not always especially hooky as songs -- that, combined with the overheated production, may have resulted in the soft commercial performances -- but throughout it all, Wilson's performances are indelible. Even when he didn't have the material or production he deserved, he remained one of the greatest singers of his time, as this compilation handily proves.