Sunday, November 06, 2005

Silent Stereo Reviews #2

Philly Soul Girls, Vol. I
Philly Archives

(out of five)

oul music is typically divided into two camps. Down south, you have the Stax/Volt sound, made famous by such luminaries as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett. Up north, the Motown vibe dominated, characterized by legends like Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Jackson 5. Of course, though, the soul music scene is more than just those two sounds. Vibrant soul scenes took hold in Chicago (Curtis Mayfield), New York (Ben E. King) and Philadelphia.

The most famous members of the Philly soul scene are perhaps the O'Jays and the Spinners, both of whom ironically are not from Philadelphia and whose success came primarily during the seventies. The O'Jays, from Ohio, scored a definitive hit in 1972 with
Back Stabbers, their first release for the new label Philadelphia International, while the Spinners originated in Detroit as a doo wop band, were briefly signed to Motown, and enjoyed their greatest successes from 1972-1977 after hooking up with producer Thom Bell, who is largely credited with developing the Philly soul sound.

Bell's sound, which was to define much of contemporary soul music for the seventies, featured rich vocal harmonies, elaborate arrangements, and lush strings. Bell made his mark on such hits as Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive," Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones," and "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. But before Bell arrived, there was a different ethic at place in Philadelphia soul. Prior to Bell's orchestrations, the Philly sound was heavily influenced by doo wop and to a lesser extent, the girl group sound.

Philly Soul Girls, Vol. I captures that ethic, featuring 25 tracks (and three additional instrumentals) recorded from 1962-1965. All the artists on the disc were part of B & L Productions, which was formed in 1962 by songwriter Frank Bendinelli and arranger Leroy Lovett. Bendinelli and Lovett met on Broad Street in Philly and, discovering that they lived a few blocks from each other, formed the Ben Lee music publishing company. The tracks were recorded primarily at Sound Plus studios in Northeast Philly and highlight a good array of heretofore unknown artists--Patty and the Emblems, the Persianettes, Honey and the Bees, the Swans, the Ladybirds, and Ann Byers, to name a few.

The songs on this compliation are raw and emotional. There are no hints of the lushness or strings which Thom Bell would eventually use to define the Philly soul sound of the seventies. What the songs do feature are powerful lead vocals, omnipresent backup harmonies, and percussive horns, guitar stabs, and hand claps. Ann Byers' "Your Love is a Wonderful Thing" wouldn't sound out of place on a Motown compilation, while "The Hard Way," the sole track by the Butterflies, stands out as one of the discs most passionate tracks.

Philly Soul Girls Vol. I collects some wonderful songs from some wonderful singers that the music world has largely ignored. As documentation of the nascent Philly soul sound, this disc is a keeper. But perhaps more importantly, Philly Soul Girls Vol I is a reminder of the great number of good music and talented artists who never broke into the mainstream.

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