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Hip-O Select's 2009 set, Depend on Me: The Early Albums, crams the Miracles' first five albums -- Hi, We're the Miracles, Cookin' with the Miracles, I'll Try Something New, The Fabulous Miracles, Recorded Live on Stage -- onto two CDs, presenting them all in the original mono and adding five bonus tracks of non-LP singles and regional variations, including a version of "Shop Around" that hasn't been heard in decades. The Miracles were the first Motown artists to have a hit single, and they were the first to release full-length LPs, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that these LPs have a bit of a formative feel to them, with the debut relying perhaps a bit too heavily on ballads, and splitting the vocal duties nearly equally among the Miracles, including leads by Claudette Robinson, who would later leave the group. Although the debut moves a little bit slow, there's quite a bit of depth to the record, and it finds its counterpart on Cookin', which is every bit as peppy as Hi is sleepy, and it's built upon a number of very strong originals from Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy (which only makes an admirable version of Gershwin's "Embraceable You" seem more out of place). By the time the Miracles got to I'll Try Something New in 1962, the Motown hit machine was cranking into gear, and that's evident on the best moments of the LP: the original material from the pen of Smokey Robinson, who writes some creamy sweet soul classics here, highlighted by the title track. These happen to be offset by covers of Cole Porter, Lerner/Loewe, and Weill -- cuts that aren't bad vocally, but make the record feel off balance as a whole. That's not a problem on The Fabulous Miracles, which consists of nothing but Smokey originals (some co-written with others, mainly Ronald White), highlighted by the timeless "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," but there are a number of excellent songs here, making this rival Cookin' as the best of their early albums. Finally, there's Recorded Live on Stage, a surprisingly raw and energetic collection of performances partially culled from a gig at Chicago's Regal Theater, and a December 1962 concert at the Apollo that's a great way to cap off the set. After all the smoothness of the studio, it's nice to hear the Miracles perform with real passion, because that was as big a component of their success as their sweetness. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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