With over a dozen soul and R&B hits to their credit, it is a shame The Soul Children aren't more better remembered for their contributions. These last two records for the original Stax label are quality, top-notch soul ,but at this point the Stax label wasn't too far away from bankruptcy and a lot of records were criminally under-promoted. I think "Genesis" is particularly stellar and it's my favorite of the two, perhaps because it has more of a gospel deep-groove swing to it, and a lot of people feel that "Friction" was their peak.
1972's "Genesis" has a great set of songs contributed from the likes of Eddie Floyd, Chicago's Bobby Newsome, and Bettye Crutcher. The backing musicians included members of the reconstituted M.G.'s and The Bar-kays and also feature Howard Grimes (of Hi Records) on the drums for what may be my favorite song here - the very first. It should probably surprise nobody that a vocal group put together by Dave Porter and Isaac Hayes (who played on their early records) would be adept at the type of long slow-burner that opens up the album, "I Want To Be Loved." They dig into this tune with an impassioned flare that sets it apart from Hayes' epic cool delivery, however. After a suspenseful minute's worth of subdued build-up, the rhythm section drops out as Anita and Shelbra launch into some intense gospel harmonies and eventually a brief sermon crowning love over the material things in life, and then Blackfoot comes tearing in with his gritty response and ups the ante. The group on "Genesis" reminds me a little of the early records by label-mates The Emotions, but with the added bonus of a male-female dynamic. The bigger of the hits on this record was "Hearsy", penned by Blackfoot and West, and it has a very M.G.-ish vibe to it, which is fine, but it also may be the least interesting song on the record. "It Hurts Me To My Soul" is a favorite of mine here, and in fact I played it on one of my podcasts.
"Friction" was apparently a concept album based around the idea of cheating and being cheated on. The record is admirable in the way it traces a narrative from start to finish without any kind of heavy-handed high drama. But in some ways I kind of think the idea could have benefited from trying it as a 'soul opera.' They could have brought in special guests with assigned roles, Johnnie Taylor as "Jody," Isaac Hayes as whoever he wanted to be (except Truck Turner)... As it stands, the record is almost too downbeat for me (all the songs are slow to mid tempo except for "We're Getting To Close"), but then again it has been a long time since I have had any nasty breakups involving cheating partners, so maybe that's what it takes to bring out the best in this album. The bookends of the album are undeniable classics, "I'll Be The Other Woman," and "Love Makes It Right" are powerful and honest explorations of themes that get glossed over with cliches in even some of the best music. In fact, let me extend that statement to all the tracks here - "Friction" really is a sophisticated treatment of an eternal and complex subject, and deserves a lot of credit as a unique artist achievement in the Stax canon. It's just that I don't dig listening to it as much as "Genesis." Maybe it is the fact that all the songs were written by the production team of Hampton/Banks leaves the songs with less melodic and dynamic variety than the previous record with its overflow of writing talent. Or maybe it's that I prefer the MGs and Bar-kay's (reconstituted though they may have been) to the instrumentalists on "Friction." With a group as good as The Soul Children, this is kind of like trying to decide which of your luxury cars you are going to drive today - in the end, it's a quibbling born of privilege.
In putting together this post I discovered that Shelbra Bennett passed away at the end of May of this year. She was the first of the four members to go her own way (I think) career-wise but not the first to pass away: J.Blackfoot died in 2011.