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The Roots of Philadelphia International: BBR Reissues O’Jays, MFSB Classics

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O'Jays in PhiladelphiaThough London, England is some 3,500 miles away from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States, the spirit of the City of Brotherly Love is alive and well thanks to Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label.  Two more remarkable artifacts from Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International empire have recently arrived from BBR, and though both titles have previously been available on CD, these new reissues are their best representations in the format yet.

Fans who only know The O’Jays from their massive hits like “Love Train” and “Back Stabbers” might be surprised by the cover image of 1970’s The O’Jays in Philadelphia (CDBBR 0229) in which the “classic trio” of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell are joined – suitcases in hand – by a fourth O’Jay, Bobby Massey.  The group actually began its life in Cleveland, Ohio in 1957 as a quintet.  Bill Isles departed during The O’Jays’ Imperial Records stay, and Massey was out before the group signed with Philadelphia International.  But Massey did participate in one Gamble and Huff production, recorded during the infancy of Philly soul for the duo’s pre-PIR Neptune Records label – The O’Jays in Philadelphia.

Hit the jump as we spin The O’Jays in Philadelphia – plus MFSB! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 6, 2013 at 10:04

Posted in MFSB, News, Reissues, Reviews, The O'Jays

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Here’s Your Chance: Philly Soul Legends, Deep Soul Grooves Comprise BBR’s Next Release Slate

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Enchantment UtopiaFrom the streets of Philadelphia to the deepest vaults of soul and R&B, this coming week’s slate of reissues from Big Break Records has got just about something for everyone.

Enchantment, the Detroit soul group behind 1978’s hit “It’s You That I Need,” would make some changes in the ’80s, having moved labels a few times (from Roadshow/United Artists to RCA and finally Columbia for two albums) and also subtly altering their sound from a lush, disco feel to a Fairlight-led modern groove. While Utopia, their final album, did not chart, it still has its fans thanks to singles like “Here’s Your Chance” and “Don’t Fight the Feeling.” Utopia makes an appearance on CD, both newly remastered and with five bonus tracks, including single mixes of “Here’s Your Chance.”

Though “Kleeer” was the name of the band behind the album Winners in 1979, the group of musicians who made up this ensemble took on several monikers throughout the decade. As The Jam Band, they were New York-based session players, notably for Disco-Tex and The Sex-O-Lettes; as Pipeline, they were an ill-fated hard rock outfit on Columbia Records and as The Universal Robot Band, they were another disco-based studio project (which would enjoy a cult dance hit in the ’80s with “Barely Breaking Even”). Kleeer was self-made dance music, however, with a Top 40 R&B hit in the title track. (Fun fact: among the horn players doing session work on this LP are jazz legends Randy and Michael Brecker!) Winners is expanded with a bonus extended version of the title track.

The song titles on Gwen McCrae’s Melody of Life hint at a love life of joy and pain; for McCrae, it was all too real. Three years prior, after a rocky relationship, she divorced her husband and collaborator George McCrae (of “Rock Your Baby” fame); after Melody, she’d further separate from her label, TK Records subsidiary Cat, for whom she’d made six albums. (McCrae would enjoy some success in the ’80s on Atlantic.) McCrae’s tour de force vocals shine anew on CD with this expansion of Melody of Life, featuring two single edits as bonus tracks.

MFSBBBR’s last two releases this week are pure Philadelphia soul from two architects of the genre. First, there’s the debut album by MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother), the de facto house band for all of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s musical ventures. Though Philly soul was still in its infancy when MFSB released their first, self-titled album in 1972, the groundwork is very much there, on both Philly originals (“Back Stabbers,” a hit for The O’Jays, “Something for Nothing,” written by Gamble, Roland Chambers and Thom Bell) and covers (Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead,” Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair”). The same can be said for the final BBR release of the week, the live set The O’Jays in Philadelphia. The group had recorded for Imperial and Bell, but this LP, released on Neptune Records, was their first under the Gamble-Huff umbrella; the following year’s Back Stabbers for Philadelphia International would make them worldwide stars.

After the jump, you can place your orders for all of these titles, which are shipping now (save for Kleeer, which has a June 3 date on Amazon U.K.).

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Written by Mike Duquette

May 28, 2013 at 11:59

Release Round-Up: Week of May 28

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Wings Over America BoxWings, Wings Over America: The Paul McCartney Archive Collection (MPL/Hear Music/Concord)

Paul McCartney’s first great U.S. tour was chronicled brilliantly on this 1977 live album, and it’s been greatly expanded herein for McCartney’s ongoing reissue campaign.

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3CD (Best Buy exclusive)
4CD/1DVD box: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Bennett Brubeck - LiveTony Bennett & Dave Brubeck, The White House Sessions: Live 1962 (Columbia/RPM/Legacy)

A once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between the legendary singer and the acclaimed jazz pianist bows in full on CD for the first time. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Burt - Anyone Who Had a HeartBurt Bacharach, Anyone Who Had a Heart: The Art of the Songwriter – The Best of Burt Bacharach (U.S. Edition) (Hip-O/UMe)

What was a six-disc box or two-disc set internationally is a different two-disc anthology of the acclaimed songwriter’s greatest works, as performed by Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and more. (Amazon U.S.)

Monkees - JustusThe Monkees, Justus: The Deluxe Edition (Friday Music)

The Monkees’ final album, expanded to include an original behind-the-scenes promo film on DVD.  (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Basia Time and TideBasia, Time and Tide: Deluxe Edition (Cherry Pop)

The solo debut of the Polish singer/songwriter expanded with a heap of bonus material – all produced by TSD pal Vinny Vero! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Finding the Sacred HeartDio, Finding the Sacred Heart: Live in Philly 1986 (Eagle Rock)

A long sought-after Dio live video is remastered and reissued across several different formats!

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Blu-Ray: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

MFSBEnchantment, Utopia: Expanded Edition / Kleeer, Winners: Expanded Edition / Gwen McCrae, Melody of Life: Expanded Edition / MFSB, MFSB: Expanded Edition / The O’Jays, Live in Philadelphia (Big Break Records)

The BBR slate for this week includes some rare early records from The O’Jays and MFSB and much more! Watch this space for a full breakdown of every title plus Amazon pre-order links!

Now 30 YearsVarious Artists, NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years (Universal U.K.)

Three discs celebrating three decades of the long-running U.K. compilation. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Written by Mike Duquette

May 28, 2013 at 10:13

Love Is (Still) The Message: MFSB Classic Expanded and Remastered by Big Break

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There was clear irony in Bart Forbes’ cover artwork for MFSB’s Love is the Message.  The 1973 album showed off Philadelphia International Records’ hallowed house band at its smoothest, espousing the gospels of peace, love, tolerance and unity.  The cover illustration, however, depicts a skull clad in a military helmet, a mushroom cloud, a swastika, death, a howling dog, a Klansman and a grief-stricken man among its disturbing images.  This was heady stuff, but then again, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s label never shied away from serious subjects even if they were presented palatably and accessibly.  Clearly, Gamble and Huff hoped love would win out over society’s all-too-real ills, and if music be the food of love, the team played on with the beautiful sounds on this album, newly remastered and expanded by Big Break Records.

Love is the Message was the sophomore outing for MFSB.  That’s “Mother, Father, Sister, Brother,” although some less familial variations exist, too!  Though brief at just 35 minutes, the album showcases the many sides of the orchestra thanks to the arrangements from stalwarts Bobby Martin, Jack Faith and Vince Montana.  (Montana would later decamp for Salsoul Records, taking most of the original MFSB line-up with him to form The Salsoul Orchestra.)  Though not individually credited on the album, with Gamble and Huff preferring to let the mighty initials speak for themselves, musicians included Leon “Zack” Zachary (saxophone), Bobby Eli, Roland Chambers and Norman Harris (guitars), Ronnie Baker (bass), Larry Washington (percussion), Lenny Pakula (piano), Vince Montana (vibes) and Earl Young (drums).  Don Renaldo, as always, provided the strings.  Gamble and Huff produced most of the tracks, handing off “My One and Only Love” to its arranger, Vince Montana, and “Bitter Sweet” to its co-writers, Bruce Hawes and Jack Faith (who did arrangement duty, as well).

Without a doubt, the album’s pièce de résistanceis “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia),” also known as the theme from Don Cornelius’ Soul Train.  In Bobby Martin’s potent and slick arrangement, “T.S.O.P.” distills all of the ingredients for Philadelphia soul into three-and-a-half minutes of musical bliss that anticipated disco.   Earl Young’s distinctive drum patterns anchor the large and lush orchestral sound, with ample spotlights for the bass and guitar, plus the sweet, smooth and soulful vocals (from the Three Degrees!).  The catchy and danceable melody, of course, is as irresistible as any, and the track crossed over to score mightily with listeners looking for pop, soul/R&B, funk and dance music.  The single version went to No. 1 Pop and R&B in the U.S., and propelled the album to a No. 4 Pop/No. 1 R&B showing, as well.

But that’s not the only track to recommend Love is the Message.  Read more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 25, 2012 at 11:38

Posted in MFSB, News, Reissues

Review: “Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia, Live in San Francisco 1973”

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No love, no peace, no shoes on my feet…no home, just a shack where I sleep…

In the fall of 1971, Philadelphia International Records launched its long-playing series with Billy Paul’s Going East, and the title opus in which the velvet-voiced crooner spins a slow-burning yarn of slavery.  It was hardly Top 40 fare (Paul would have to wait till producers/songwriters/label entrepreneurs Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff gifted him “Me and Mrs. Jones” the following year) but signaled the dramatic experimentation with which the label would define TSOP, or “The Sound of Philadelphia.”  Socially conscious, even spiritual lyrics would rest comfortably on a jazz-influenced bed of orchestral splendor, as smooth as it was funky.  With the very next PIR album, the label would start a nearly-unbroken string of music that’s as classic today as it was relevant, then: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ self-titled debut (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”), The O’Jays’ Back Stabbers (“Back Stabbers,” “Love Train”), 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”).

Each one of those artists and songs can be heard on a remarkable time capsule that’s newly arrived from Legacy Recordings and Philadelphia International.  Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia, Live in San Francisco 1973 (88691906232, 2012) is somewhat paradoxical, capturing a 1973 night in the City by the Bay introducing the brightest stars from the City of Brotherly Love.  But in any setting, boy, can these Mothers (and Fathers, Sisters, and Brothers) play!  It’s the first (but hopefully not the last) volley from Legacy in the 40th anniversary celebration of Philadelphia International Records.

Recorded on July 27, 1973, the concert was held at CBS Records’ company convention inside the plush environs of the Fairmont Hotel.  Previous performers at the convention included Bruce Springsteen and Engelbert Humperdinck.  Joe Tarsia, the owner of Philly’s hallowed Sigma Sound Studios and the concert’s engineer, recalls in the liner notes that the event was attended by everyone on the CBS roster from Perry Como to Edgar Winter.  (What a sight that must have been!)  And nearly everyone associated with the success of Philadelphia International was up there, on that stage.  Vocalists included Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees, Billy Paul, and the O’Jays. The MFSB Orchestra that evening counted among its 35 members two-thirds of the city’s “Mighty Three,” Leon Huff and Thom Bell on piano and organ, respectively. Huff and Bell were joined by a duo of Philly’s finest arrangers, Norman Harris and Bobby Eli (guitars), plus Earl Young (drums), Ronnie Baker (bass), Lenny Pakula (piano/keyboards), Jack Faith (saxophone), Vince Montana (vibes) and other notables. Bobby Martin and Richard Rome, two more arrangers with key contributions to the Philadelphia sound, took turns conducting.

Gamble and Huff considered the evening a crucial one to secure ongoing promotion at CBS Records for their fledgling label despite its already-proven hitmaking ability.  That urgency is evident in the performances.  (Thom Bell was the third partner in Gamble and Huff’s publishing company, and a frequent face at the label despite his outside productions for The Stylistics, The Spinners, Ronnie Dyson, New York City, Johnny Mathis and so many others.)  Hit the jump to meet the evening’s emcee, the one and only Mr. Don Cornelius! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 30, 2012 at 12:01

Vintage, Retro Mixes Shine on U.K. Philadelphia International Box Set

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Now’s as good a time as any to get into the sweet sounds and lush arrangements of Philadelphia soul in the 1970s. 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of legendary writer/producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s creation of a label that set the groundwork for some of the best soul and R&B sounds of the decade, and this year’s seeing a lot of excellent catalogue projects honoring that legacy.

We’ve already told you about Legacy’s Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in San Francisco 1973 (keep an eye out for a review from Joe!), and there are more great titles in store in the coming months as well. One of them is a stellar four-disc box set that combines the great arrangements of Philly soul with the ace mixing techniques of Tom Moulton.

Moulton, the father of the modern-day remix, is about as far from a stranger to Philadelphia International as you can get. In 1977, he mixed classic sides by The O’Jays, The Three Degrees, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and MFSB for the double album Philadelphia Classics. Over time, he was commissioned for a variety of other projects for the label, some of which never saw the light of day past a few rarer promo records or obscure compilations.

With the release of Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Remixes, Harmless Records – a subsidiary of the U.K.’s Demon Music Group – has compiled all eight cuts from Philadelphia Classics and combined them with not only seven rare or unreleased vintage mixes, but another 15 extended versions commissioned just for this set. The Intruders, The Trammps, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass – those are just a few of the artists ripe for rediscovery on this set. In addition to the four separately packaged discs, the box will also feature 16 pages of newly-written liner notes by acclaimed British music journalist Lloyd Bradley and rare photos of Moulton at work in Sigma Sound Studios, birthplace for countless classics of the label.

The box will be out February 27 in the U.K., and it can be yours to pre-order (for a rather stellar price, given the worth of the music) at Amazon after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 30, 2012 at 10:24

Wake Up, Everybody: Edsel Reissues Seven from Philadelphia International

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When Sony Music Entertainment reacquired the rights to the full Philadelphia International Records (PIR) catalog in 2007 (after losing control of the post-1976 output in 1984 to EMI), hopes were high that much of that storied hit factory’s catalogue would finally be reissued on CD. Arguably the 1970s’ answer to Berry Gordy’s Motown empire, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s label boasted a top-notch roster: Lou Rawls, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees and the smokin’ hot house band MFSB, just to name a few. But after a promising start (rarities compilation Conquer the World, the outstanding box set Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia, which also took in non-PIR artists sharing the Philly sound, and a few album reissues under the Total Soul Classics banner), the releases dried up, and to date, the only other exploitation of the catalogue has come via scattered entries in series like The Essential and Playlist.

Thankfully, Britain’s Edsel Records has picked up the slack. Edsel had previously released a number of PIR titles on CD in the early part of the decade, but they have reactivated their already-impressive reissue program in 2010 with a number of new releases designed for both the deep Philly fan and the novice listener. All seven titles released to date boast liner notes by soul authority Tony Rounce and some are making their first-ever CD debuts. Hit the jump to find out which albums are in the series, along with full discographical info and track listings, Second Disc-style! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 9, 2010 at 10:15