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Soul of the South by Doug Gray

Of all the early-to-mid-1970s bands laboring under the “Southern rock” banner (a term coined by the media, not by the musicians), none could top South Carolina’s Marshall Tucker Band for pure country credentials. Their classic-rock staples “Take the Highway” and “Can’t You See” contain lengthy, rock-informed improvisations but lope along with a countrified ease; their Top 10 pop breakthrough, “Heard It in a Love Song,” should have been a country smash, but radio’s increasingly narrowing confines during the mid/late 1970s proved a no man’s land for a band as stylistically untethered as the Tucker boys.

The band’s sound, however, would prove to be an inspiration to country acts including Toby Keith, Mark Chesnutt and the Garthmeister himself, a devotee who would proudly co-write the final MTB single, 1993’s “Walk Outside the Lines.” Outside the lines is indeed where Marshall Tucker walked, as a new best-of collection demonstrates. Greatest Hits, a surprisingly comprehensive single-disc overview of the band’s fruitful 1973–1977 period, pairs original, uncut album tracks with several songs in their edited single versions (including a neatly trimmed “Can’t You See”), all in clean digital sound. The mixture of formats can in fact be a bit dizzying, moving from bluegrass- and western-influenced numbers to romping workouts incorporating swing, boogie-woogie and R&B.

The band’s versatile vocalist, Doug Gray, is particularly well-suited for singing R&B, a fact further cemented by Soul of the South, a previously unreleased eight-song set of 1981 solo recordings that finds Gray, musical guests and MTB bandmates (some now deceased) in fine form. The album further confounds the band’s multigenre legacy, though, moving away from country roots in favor of soul-flavored songs mostly from Nashville tunesmiths, oddly enough, and chosen by legendary country producer Billy Sherrill. Taken together, these additions to the Marshall Tucker catalog basically serve as reminders that, no matter how far you take the highway, you’re always close to a country road.

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