Various Artists - Disco Soul Gold, Vol. 2

Various Artists
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Various Artists – Disco Soul Gold, Vol. 2

Memphis, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia. For music fans, those cities are more than just points on the map. Each is associated with a certain sound and a music label. The music of Philadelphia dominated the 1970s and early 1980s in the way that Chess dominated the 1950s and 60s and Stax and Motown battled for the ears of America in the 1960s and early 70s.

Philly soul, and specifically the label Philadelphia International Records, was typified by what some called sophisticated soul. PIR records often had those lush strings and jazz influenced horns and tight doo-wop inspired melodies that we got from groups such as the O’Jays, the Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Soloists such as Billy Paul and Patti LaBelle worked magic with the jazzy piano driven tunes, giving us classics such as “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Various Artists – Disco Soul Gold, Vol. 2

Memphis, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia. For music fans, those cities are more than just points on the map. Each is associated with a certain sound and a music label. The music of Philadelphia dominated the 1970s and early 1980s in the way that Chess dominated the 1950s and 60s and Stax and Motown battled for the ears of America in the 1960s and early 70s.

Philly soul, and specifically the label Philadelphia International Records, was typified by what some called sophisticated soul. PIR records often had those lush strings and jazz influenced horns and tight doo-wop inspired melodies that we got from groups such as the O’Jays, the Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Soloists such as Billy Paul and Patti LaBelle worked magic with the jazzy piano driven tunes, giving us classics such as “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Nigel Lowis grew up in England, where older relatives surrounded him with love and crates filled with albums from all of America’s soul, blues, jazz and rock capitals. So while the 3,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and a common language separated Lowis and his fellow Brits from Philly, the universality of the soulful sounds that came out of Philadelphia (probably going back to jazz artists such as John Coltrane) had the same effect on him that it had on folks on this side of the pond.

What distinguishes a musician and producer such as Lowis from most of those fans is that he could honor the Sound of Philadelphia through the art of making music, which he does on the album Disco Soul Gold, Vol. 2, which is the follow-up to Lowis’ tribute to disco music.

This record, like Disco Soul Gold, Vol. 1, finds Lowis producing songs for an international roster of artists that includes newcomers, industry veterans and soul music legends who collaborated with him previously. In this case, these original songs sport arrangements largely influenced by the work that Gamble and Huff did at PIR, but also Memphis, the wall of sound arrangement of Bacharach and David and the psychedelic soul of Norman Whitfield’s work at Motown.

“Clouds in My Mirror” best typifies DSG Vol. 2’s international flavor along, soul music’s worldwide reach and the quality of music heard on this project. Francisca Thomas hails from a musical family in South Africa, and has been gracing stages since she was a small child. Thomas wraps her sensual vocals around a mid-tempo track about a woman who finds that image that she stares at in the mirror is clouded – both by steam from the shower and by her own wishful thinking about her relationship. The track has a breezy feel paced by a light funk bass line that holds together those punctuating Memphis horns and organ and guitar work definitely influenced by Stax legends Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper.

Legendary soul legends Patti Austin and Freda Payne contribute to tracks that get a different elements of Philly soul with “Hope Has Arrived” and “Yesterday’s Payne, Tomorrow’s Joy.” The former, which was featured in a recent First Listen, is featured on the soundtrack of an animated film. The theme of this sleek and synthy track is empowerment – something that coursed through the music of Philadelphia International Records throughout the 1970s. Payne, like Austin, retains her range and excellent phrasing on this ballad - which is a duet with singer Clif Payne. This duet, which tells the story of two lovers who overcame mistakes to experience the joy of finding their way back to each other, has an instrumental arrangement that can best be described as full but definitely not overstuffed. Too often contemporary producers remove those extra strings or second guitars perhaps for budgetary reasons or because they believe those so-called bells and whistles aren’t necessary. A great voice singing a tune with good lyrics will suffice. “Yesterday’s Payne, Tomorrow’s Joy” surely has two prime voices in Freda and Clif. However, those bells and whistles make a good song even better.

Lowis and company double down on the lush production on “Tell Me,” and Burt Bacharch/Hal David styled ballad. Those kind of tunes with their swelling crescendos and tempo changes are challenging for any vocalist. However, British vocalist and songwriter Hannah White is more than up to the challenge, as is Marc Staggers on the dreamy and romantic number “Timeless.”

Every now and then those of us who are deep into this indie soul movement have to stand up for the current state of R&B music. Projects like Disco Soul Gold, Vol. 2 make the job of defending soul music easier and enjoyable. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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