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Betty Wright 

My First Time Around (Water)

Why there hasn't been an A&E biography dedicated to Miami soul goddess Betty Wright is unfathomable. She has written, sung, and recorded fine R&B since the mid-'60s; collaborated with Stevie Wonder ("What Are You Gonna Do With It"); had her own talk show; sung backup for Erykah Badu, Jennifer Lopez, David Byrne, and Johnny Mathis; and produced disco divas Millie Jackson and Gwen McCrae as well as U.K. protégé Joss Stone in her 2003 debut.

My First Time Around is a straight reissue of her 1968 album debut, and unlike most soul and R&B albums from that era, it's consistently killer with no tedious filler. First Time is a near-perfect balance of slightly raw, gospel-infused southern rhythm and blues and smoothly produced uptown soul. The crackling, funky, and assertive "Girls Can't Do What the Boys Do" was the hit single, but it's far from the best here -- just listen to Wright testifying, à la Aretha (but without imitation), on the aching ballad "I Can't Stop My Heart." Shed a quiet, broken-hearted tear with "Watch Out Love," and wonder at how the winsomely melancholy, girl-group-flavored gem "Just You" (written by Sonny Bono!) did not become a massive hit. Hyperbole Alert: My First Time Around is surely one of the best reissues in recent memory and essential listening for fans of old-school sounds.

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More by Mark Keresman

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