The pedigree of Russell Thompkins, Jr. (the Stylistics), Will Hart (the Delfonics) and Ted "Wizard" Mills (Blue Magic) is beyond question. Their vocal work on such classic soul ballads as "You Are Everything," "(Didn't I) Blow Your Mind" and "Sideshow" established them as among the greatest soul singers of their generation. So the burden on Eli was to record an album worthy of both the concept and the singers, and he has, in part, succeeded. In deciding to fill the album with faithful "covers" of hit songs from the 70s and 80s, he's created a disc that is certainly enjoyable, if safe. But, perhaps unwittingly, it is the addition of two non-hits on the album that hints at the heights that this disc could have reached and leaves the listener wanting, if not a do-over, at least another shot for the 3 Tenors of Soul to make an album of completely new material that serves as a satisfying bookend to their substantial recording legacy.
Covers albums - even those recorded by legends - rise or fall based on the matching of quality material and production with the singers, and All The Way From Philadelphia is no exception. Even though the Three Tenors showed their ability over their careers to handle upbeat material such as "Look Me Up" and "Rock and Roll Baby," it was on sweet soul ballads that they made their names. So it's no surprise that it is the slow songs that are the highpoints of All the Way. Cuts like the Spinners' "How Could I Let You Get Away," the Bee Gees' "Too Much Heaven," Isley/Jasper/Isley's "Caravan of Love" and "A Love of My Own" (with originators Average White Band playing background) lay extremely well for the trio, while the upbeat take on Earth, Wind & Fire's "Fantasy" doesn't fare nearly as well.
The most pleasant surprise on the disc is the addition of the two strong unknown songs. The title track, a "lost" Daryl Hall and John Oates composition, provides the disc's finest upbeat number as well as an appropriate lyrical tribute to Philadelphia, and Hall and Oates' participation on the song makes it even more memorable. Best of all though is a relatively obscure Eli composition, "Grateful," a terrific song that Mills absolutely nails, making it stand toe-to-toe with the classic hits covered on the album.
Vocally, the trio sounds good, hitting notes that would trip up most singers twenty years their junior. And, given the lack of budget to bring in the large orchestras that graced many of the classic songs being covered here, Eli's production is sound. The biggest challenge for All The Way From Philadelphia is its timing as at least the 30th soul remake album in the past 3 years, all mining basically the same material. Make no mistake, it is great pleasure hearing this legendary trio recording anything again, but getting a taste of them deftly handling the two quality unknown songs on the disc simply whets listeners' appetites and leaves me hoping that there will be another chance for Russell, Ted and Will to record a fully original album that truly goes all the way from Philadelphia. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik