OLD SOUL SINGERS never die, they just hit the oldies circuit. Every once in a while, they even get to make an album. Usually these comeback albums are a hollow echo of moments of inspiration in the golden soul days of 1962- 76, but sometimes the echo rings a little fuller and brings back some real pleasure.
HALL & OATES -- "Live at the Apollo With David Ruffin & Eddie Kendricks" (RCA AFL1-7035). Another group may own the legal rights to the Temptations' name, but the group's former lead singers, Ruffin and Kendricks, still own title to the Temptations' sound. They prove it on this live album by reprising four of their mid-'60s Motown hits, backed by the admiring voices of Hall & Oates and the state-of-the- art pop-funk of the Hall & Oates band.
BOBBY BLAND -- "Members Only" (Mlaco MAL 7429). Bland churns out a superb overlooked album in the classic southern soul style every year. This one's even better than usual. Bland, who enjoyed 40 R&B chart hits over three decades, hooks up with chitlin circuit songwriters such as Vernon Davis, George Jackson and Frank Johnson for an album of songs about middle- aged lust and heartache. Backed by punchy horns and a wound-up-tight rhythm section, Bland grunts, quivers, rasps and croons his way to the heart of the songs.
JOE SIMON -- "Mr. Right" (Compleat 671015-1). Unlike Bland, Simon is unable to impose his personality on his songs. This comeback album for the mellow southern soul singer was produced by Skip Scarborough, an Earth, Wind & Fire collaborator. Unfortunately, Scarborough gives Simon the lulling polish of late EW&F rather than the funk of early EW&F. Simon's version of "Always on My Mind" is far less soulful than Willie Nelson's.
THE SPINNERS -- "Lovin' Feelings" (Mirage 7 90456-1). This long-running group, which scored hits for both Motown and Philadelphia's Thom Bell, uses six different producers on this album in its search for a new formula. These singers should avoid Ashley Irwin and his maudlin sentimentality. But their original producer, Harvey Fuqua, gives them a delightful doo-wop number, "That's What Girls Are Made For." Gerard McMahon wrote and produced four updates on the Fuqua sound: songs as snappy as they are melodic. And the voices are still all there.
THE O'JAYS -- "Love Fever" (Philadelphia International ST 53015). The O'Jays have been the most consistent act in the Philadelphia soul stable, so it's surprising that they stumble so badly on Philadelphia International's first release to be distributed by EMI. The O'Jays' three classy voices are only as good as their material, and the songs by producers Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, Reggie Griffin and the Sigler Brothers are awful: strained dance numbers, contrived social commentary, cliched love songs and shallow patriotism.