Various Artists “The Sound Of Philadelphia” (Sony Legacy/Philadelphia International)
Although a lot of great music has come out of the City of Brotherly Love, when you mention “the sound of Philadelphia” you can only be talking about the music that was written and produced by the prolific duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
After years of being overlooked by the snooty Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, Gamble and Huff were finally inducted into the Cleveland museum last month and this 14-track CD shows why they were accorded the honor.
While Gamble and Huff had musical Midas touches as songwriters, they also knew how to make their sound quite sophisticated by the standards of the 1970s. They utilized not only seasoned session musicians, but also members of The Philadelphia Orchestra to get the solid production values one hears on such classics as “Love Train,” “Me And Mrs. Jones,” “Back Stabbers” and what has become a Mother’s Day standard, “I’ll Always Love My Mama.”
Although this disc celebrates Gamble and Huff’s golden past, the good news is that the duo has revived Philadelphia International Records and that new music will be coming from those famous Broad Street studios in the near future.
Various Artists “Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration” (Concord Records)
In the 1960s, Berry Gordy’s Detroit-based Motown Records was the label that dominated the rhythm and blues singles charts. Just about the only serious competition he faced came from Memphis, where Jim Stewart’s Stax Records was able to pump out one gritty hit after another. Unfortunately for Stewart, he did not have the same luck accessing the pop charts that Gordy did, and a financially disastrous distribution deal with Atlantic Records destroyed the company in the mid 1970s.
Listening to the 50 tunes that comprise this box set make you realize what a glorious run it was. The music varies from the toe-tapping instrumentals of the Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MGs, the gritty sound of Otis Redding, the infectious gospel pop of the Staple Singers, the coquettish style of Carla Thomas to the deep bass intonation of Isaac Hayes.
Various Artists “Ultimate Grammy Collection:Classic R&B” (Shout Factory)
Speaking of golden anniversaries, the Grammy Awards marked their 50th annual presentation this past February. The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Inc., whose president is Bayside native Neil Portnow, released a slew of compilation albums to celebrate this milestone. It is not surprising that NARAS had the wherewithal to cut through the usual record company legalese and therefore was able to license from Motown (the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”) Atlantic (Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”) and Columbia (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After The Love Has Gone” and the Emotions’ “Best Of My Love”).
You can’t help but admire Ike and Tina Turner’s boundless energy on “Proud Mary;” marvel at how Bill Withers was able to wring out so much emotion by repeating the words “I know” 20 times in the two-minute classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine;” and wonder how Marvin Gaye was able to get what sadly would turn out to be his last big hit, the frank and risque “Sexual Healing,” past the radio censors.
“Slow Jams: The Definitive Collection” (Capitol)
While the initial impulse is to think of rhythm and blues as uptempo, it is just as often designed for those quiet moments when the lights are turned off as evidenced by Capitol Records’ long-running “Slow Jams” series. You can get romantic with that special someone listening to Al Green’s “I’m Still In Love With You,” Freddie Jackson’s “You are My Lady,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Close The Door.” More recent artists such as Corrine Rae Bailey, Faith Evans and D’Angelo are featured as well and their music holds up nicely against their predecessors.
Michael McDonald “Soul Speak” (Motown)
After recording two successful cover albums of Motown hits, former Doobie Brothers’ lead vocalist Michael McDonald gets to stretch a little with his new album, “Soul Speak.” While he is spectacular on Stevie Wonder’s (“Living For The City” and “For Once In My Life”) he is absolutely dreadful on the old Eddy Arnold/Ray Charles chestnut, “You Don’t Know Me,” and he is no Isaac Hayes to say the least on “Walk On By.” While it was a good idea for McDonald to show that soul music can come from Northern Ireland by choosing to sing Belfast native Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic,” the execution makes it a painful listen. To be fair to McDonald, his self-penned new material like “Still Not Over You” and “Enemy Within” are quite good. It is time for him to record a full album of original material.