Simply put, The Essential Lou Rawls is the first of the many compilations tallying the output of this classy, unclassifiable singer that gets it all right. Rawls recorded for a number of labels during his four-decades-plus in the business, but his most important work was evenly split between two of them, Capitol, in the '60s, and Philadelphia International, in the late '70s. While other collections have tended to focus on one period or the other, or to spotlight one aspect of his wide-ranging canon, this two-disc, comprehensive collection covers the gamut. Because the release comes from Sony, which owns the Philly International catalog, it does emphasize that latter segment of Rawls' career perhaps just a tad disproportionately, but all of the most significant Capitol hits have been licensed and are generously represented, including "Dead End Street," "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing," and "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)." Of course, the key later tracks are accounted for, beginning with the set-opening "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," a number two pop
umber one R&B hit for him in 1976, and follow-up hits such as "Groovy People" and 1977's Top Ten "See You When I Git There." The compilers also made sure not to forget Rawls' 1971 Top 20 single for MGM, "A Natural Man." But The Essential Lou Rawls has plenty of space to go beyond the basic hits, and it makes its case for Rawls as one of the era's most endearing and unique vocalists by surveying his catalog and presenting his unmistakable baritone in a number of different settings. While always falling within the R&B/soul sphere, Rawls' sound was informed by and often touched upon jazz, gospel, pop, blues, and dance music; he even foreshadowed rap with spoken interludes long before a genre with that name existed. These 34 tracks, sequenced non-chronologically for a listening experience that is more satisfying than a strictly historical rundown would have been, acknowledge that diversity and present Lou Rawls' many faces in a way that leaves no doubt that he was one of the standout vocalists of his time.