The Very Best of Mary Love, album review

A tragic life meant this soul singer could never lay her burden down

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The life of soul singer Mary Love sounds like something out of a true confessions magazine.

She was born in 1946 to a single 16-year-old mother who married her father shortly after giving birth.

At three months old she was attacked by her father with a broken bottle, an event so traumatising her mother fled from their home.

Injured and suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia, Mary was rescued by her grandmother.

But at the age of seven her mother reclaimed her and took her to California for a life Mary later called “a horror to my soul”, as her mother moved from one abusive pimp to another.

A brief spell with her father brought no relief and ended when he tried to sexually molest her. She fared no better under foster care where she was raped by a preacher and tried to take her own life on more than one occasion.

Salvation came in the shape of a talent contest and work as a backing singer. In 1965 she secured a recording contract with LA-based Modern Records and cut the first 12 tracks on this album. The records sold well locally but didn’t make much of an impact elsewhere.

It was a different story in the UK, where the almost ironically titled “You Turned My Bitter into Sweet”, a lilting, pop-styled soulful dancer from 1965 proved a huge hit on the fledgling Northern Soul scene, as did its follow-up, “Lay This Burden Down”, a record that proved that an out-and-out stomping dance floor filler could have as much soul as any heartfelt ballad.

Not that Love was a slouch in that area either, as the Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson-penned slow burner “Baby I’ll Come” and the gospel-like “Talkin’ About My Man” prove.

Life then intruded once more as a failed marriage and addiction to both alcohol and drugs shattered her personal life and hampered her professional career. This time it took more than music to ease the pain. A new partner and a renewal of her Christian faith saw her embark on a new career as a gospel singer in the mid-1980s under the name.

Again it was astute British fans who took one of her new recordings, the inspirational but catchy “Come Out of the Sandbox” and turned it into a turntable hit on Britain’s modern soul scene. Love followed through this success with trips to the UK and Europe in the 1990s.

Sadly, her final years brought more trauma; her husband left her and she suffered from ill health, before finally laying her burden down in June 2013. 

Life had been tough but the music she produced is a fine memorial to someone who brought lots of love, even if she didn’t receive it.

Kent Records, £9.55