Dexter Wansel to return after 17 years with "Flight Crew To Mars"

(May 18, 2021) Deep soulheads can skip some of the explanatory paragraphs below, because you know all the information that I’m about to write. But, on the other hand, it may just be a good refresher for some folks, because one of my all-time favorite songwriters and producers, the great Dexter Wansel, is returning to record after more than a decade and a half.

The iconic songwriter, producer and musician last released an album in late 2004, the quietly self-issued Digital Groove World, which was thoroughly enjoyable. It it has been an awful long time since he graced us with that disc, but on June 22 he returns with the brand new album, The Story of the Flight Crew To Mars. Check out his teaser video below.

(May 18, 2021) Deep soulheads can skip some of the explanatory paragraphs below, because you know all the information that I’m about to write. But, on the other hand, it may just be a good refresher for some folks, because one of my all-time favorite songwriters and producers, the great Dexter Wansel, is returning to record after more than a decade and a half.

The iconic songwriter, producer and musician last released an album in late 2004, the quietly self-issued Digital Groove World, which was thoroughly enjoyable. It it has been an awful long time since he graced us with that disc, but on June 22 he returns with the brand new album, The Story of the Flight Crew To Mars. Check out his teaser video below.

Philadelphia is justifiably considered by most to be the center of Soul Music perfection during the 70s, and the "Mighty Three" -- Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell -- have rightly received a great amount of credit for the development of the "Sound of Philadelphia," sometimes overshadowing the great artists from the O'Jays to the Blue Notes, but almost always unfairly pushing out the great musicians, writers, arrangers and producers who helped make that sound great.

Mr. Wansel is known to some as Philly keyboardist who released a number of successful albums in the 70s, including most notably Life on Mars and Voyager.  His love of advanced technology and the fusion of rock, soul, dance and jazz led to a number of interesting pieces that drew for him a loyal following.  However, Wansel may be more notable for the great contribution he quietly made to the Philly Sound.

Wansel met Gamble and Huff while he was the leader of the group Yellow Sunshine.  He signed on as a session keyboardist at G&H's Philadelphia International Records and began his climb within the organization during the mid-70s.  His luscious arrangements and strong production led to increasingly important projects within the organization, including albums by the Jacksons, Lou Rawls, Phyllis Hyman, Teddy Pendergrass and MFSB (the house band at PIR, for which Wansel served as conductor).  And his songwriting may have been even better.  Along with regular songwriting partner Cynthia Biggs El, he penned numerous classic Soul songs ranging from "Nights Over Egypt" for the Jones Girls to the haunting "Hurry Up This Way Again" for the Stylistics. 

By the early 80s, the consistency of Wansel's compositions had arguably surpassed Gamble and Huff, and much of the uneven output of PIR during the 80s was modestly anchored by gorgeous Wansel ballads like "I Really Need You Now" (sung by the O'Jays), "You're Leaving" (the Stylistics) and perhaps his most revered composition, "If Only You Knew" (Patti LaBelle).

In the 90s, as PIR was crumbling, Wansel stayed around, helping on a number of compilations and the scant new projects that came around.  He also did some outside arranging, such as on three discs by Gospel harpist Jeff Majors.  His last major work at PIR was putting together 2003's controversial O'Jays compilation, Together We Are One.  Like many at PIR, he never received public attention or credit commensurate with his significant contributions, but to those in the Soul Music world he is known as one of the great Soul songwriters, producers and arrangers of his era.

As will be the case with a lot of music fans, I’m anxiously awaiting The Story of The Flight Crew to Mars. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more.

by Chris Rizik

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