Three Tenors of Soul - All The Way From Philadelphia (2007)

Three Tenors of Soul
ThreeTenorsOfSoul.thumbnail.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase
There can be no argument that in the early 70s the center of the soul music universe was Philadelphia.  Combining progressive arrangements with stellar songwriting and a seemingly endless supply of quality vocal groups, the City of Brotherly Love captured what Motown accomplished in Detroit in the 60s and took it to the next level.  And among the great Philly vocal groups, three of the biggest were the falsetto-led balladeers the Stylistics, Blue Magic and the Delfonics.  Last year, three decades after those groups hit their peak, legendary guitarist/producer/songwriter Bobbi Eli conceived the idea of bringing together the three tenor lead singers of those acts for an album celebrating the art of falsetto soul, much as opera was celebrated in the 90s by its own Three Tenors.  The r
There can be no argument that in the early 70s the center of the soul music universe was Philadelphia.  Combining progressive arrangements with stellar songwriting and a seemingly endless supply of quality vocal groups, the City of Brotherly Love captured what Motown accomplished in Detroit in the 60s and took it to the next level.  And among the great Philly vocal groups, three of the biggest were the falsetto-led balladeers the Stylistics, Blue Magic and the Delfonics.  Last year, three decades after those groups hit their peak, legendary guitarist/producer/songwriter Bobbi Eli conceived the idea of bringing together the three tenor lead singers of those acts for an album celebrating the art of falsetto soul, much as opera was celebrated in the 90s by its own Three Tenors.  The result of this concept recording session is the new All the Way From Philadelphia, on Shanachie Records.

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

 
Featured Album - Leon Ware - "Rainbow Deux"
Featured Album - David Porter - The Classics
Album of the Month - Cool Million - "Stronger"
Song of the Month - Ascendant - "Gotta Get Up"

Leave a comment!