Now this is an interesting 31-track package as it spans the ten studio albums between 1969-1985 by a man who’s considered to be one of the top soul/jazz stylists of our age, and one of the most distinguished names on the Philadelphia International artist roster. Mr Billy Paul, known to the world for his 1972 chart topping single “Me & Mrs Jones”, recorded powerful political songs alongside the tenderest of love tunes, with a sincerity that convinced the listener Billy suffered or enjoyed every moment. Telling of an extra-marital affair between and man and his lover, who meet in secret ‘every day at the same café’, “Me & Mrs Jones” tugged at millions of heart strings; some experiencing the same situation or others wishing they could. With a nice pulsating beat, “Bring The Family Back” is slightly overshadowed by “Brown Baby”, with its subtle support vocals melting into the hookline. While Paul McCartney took a personal view in his composition “Let ‘Em In”, Billy Paul pulls back the shutters to take on a civil rights stance with explicit lyrics, snippets of speeches from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, alongside mentioning past civil rights leaders like the Kennedy brothers and Elijah Muhammad. A landmark release, but not the only one to carry a message: check out “We All Got A Mission” or “False Faces”. Then, on the other hand, Billy re-works Elton John’s “Your Song” to the extreme, by dramatising and, perhaps, soul-ising the pop song, with the added attraction of over-vocalising in sections.

This Anthology features all thirteen American hits for Philadelphia International, like, the up tempo funky, message laden “Am I Black Enough For You”, the follow-up to “Me & Mrs Jones”; “New Day, New World Comes” and “Thanks For Saving My Life”. I was instantly drawn to his version of Jerry Butler’s “Only The Strong Survive” which, lyrically alone, begs attention. Of the ballads, there’s “This Is Your Life”, or “Sexual Therapy” which respected/acknowledged his friend Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. So, there’s a mood, lyric and style for everyone here; political statements and love whispers, so what’s not to like?
Rating: 9


This is a mammoth Bar-Kays release across a 3-CD package covering 1967 – 1989, combining releases on Warner Brothers, Volt, Stax and Mercury, tracing the Bar-Kays evolution from a raw Memphis-based unit into a global, headlining act. Of the 46 tracks here, all their top ten R&B hits are included like, of course, their evergreen anthem “Soul Finger”, their debut single. Reviewing their career would cover pages but suffice to say it covered “tragedy to triumph, plane crash to gold discs, Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes” – and they survived all to tell the tale and play on. Some titles also crossed over into the US mainstream chart, including “Son Of Shaft”, a top sixty hit in 1971; “Shake Your Rump To The Funk”, top thirty in 1976; “Too Hot To Stop”, top eighty, a year later; “Move Your Boogie Body”, top sixty in 1979; “Today Is The Day”, top sixty, a year later; and “Freakshow On The Dance Floor”, top eighty, 1984, from the film “Breakin’”. And there’s so much more here that highlight the changing styles of a dedicated bunch of musicians, like “Dirty Dancer” and “Let’s Have Some Fun”.

From a studio session group at Stax Records, the Bar-Kays were chosen by Otis Redding as his backing group, exposing them to growing audiences. Throughout the years, their membership altered for various reasons, but the music continued from early R&B through to the funk years of the seventies. Next to Motown’s Funk Brothers, the Bar-Kays rose from nowhere to everywhere, with musical visions that went a long way to define the music we love.
Rating: 10


It was Dusty Springfield’s version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” that encouraged me to seek out more from Tommy Hunt, who, as you know, recorded the original during 1962. Then, when the Four Tops recorded “It’s All In The Game”, I looked some more. Tommy’s early life wasn’t easy. When he was ten years old he was released from reform school to move to Chicago with his mother, where, following a stint in the US air force, he deserted to be with his then dying mum. He subsequently served a prison sentence, then pursued his love of music. He formed The Five Echoes, which later led to him joining The Flamingos, where he enjoyed several hit singles including their top twenty pop hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” in 1959. Leaving them a year later, following musical clashes, Tommy met Luther Dixon who signed him to the Dynamo label. Here the pop-slanted “The Parade Of The Broken Hearts” with the slowie “Human” on the flipside, was released. His deeply rich and powerful voice, coupled with his smooth talking ways and the hippest of struts, he became very much in demand.

Although his British success had been limited to the soul market, Tommy excelled as a headlining act at several Northern Soul events, and following a deal with Spark Records, went on to savour a couple of UK mainstream hit singles, “Crackin’ Up” and “Loving On The Losing Side”, followed by “One Fine Morning” during the mid-seventies. Anyway, back to this release which is a kaleidoscope of goodies. “One Of These Days” is a cool ballad of note, while the real romantic side of the man seeps through with songs like “Girls Are Sentimental”. The beat escalates with “The Work Song” and “The Pretty Part Of You”, and of the unissued Scepter recordings, there’s “What’s The Matter Baby” previously only released by The Shirelles. Tell you what, if you’d like to know more about this intriguing singer, do check out his autobiography “Only Human – My Soulful Life”, published by Bank House Books in 2008. Words with music, a great combination!
Rating: 7


“Dance To The Music”, “Everyday People”, “Family Affair” – can’t be anyone else can it? Headed by Sylvester Stewart, this group of men and women was one of the first racially integrated units, who were a pioneering force in the development of psychedelic soul. Their music, therefore, was a melting pot of funk, rock/soul and psychedelia with huge influences from Stax and Motown thrown in for good measure. With their recognisable fuzz bass and wah-wah guitar, they enjoyed a hugely successful career. As Sly Stone became lost in the world of drugs, so the band suffered until it disintegrated during the seventies, whereupon Rose Stone recorded a solitary eponymous album for Motown under the name Rose Banks in 1976 and supported Marvin Gaye on tour. “Rare Grooves” is their re-named ‘comeback’ album “Back On The Right Track” from 1979 for Warner Brothers, with the bonus track “Somebody To You”. Singles “Remember Who You Are” and “The Same Thing (Makes You Laugh, Makes You Cry)” were poor sellers and, of course, this reflected on the album’s sales. Nonetheless, with several of the original members on board like, Rose, Pat Rizzo and Cynthia Robinson, Sly captured much of the group’s original funk/soul magic, without meandering into their previous darker social commentary. Check out the opening track “It Takes All Kinds” or “Sheer Energy” and you’ll see what I mean. A very worthwhile and enjoyable release for sure.
Rating: 7

February 2018: Reissue Reviews

February 2018: Reissue Reviews

Here’s the next anthology in this much respected series from SoulMusic Records and instantly I zoned into a pair of major titles which elevated the group onto the international platform. The first, of course, is the beautifully crafted “Everybody Plays The Fool”, nominated for a Grammy award in the Best R&B category, shifting sales exceeding gold status, and their biggest selling single. With sweet, cool vocals, the song is high in melody and chorus: just beautiful. And the second, “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”, in much the same stylish vein. Originally recorded by Ronnie Dyson, this single marked their only UK chart entry, peaking in the top thirty. Previously recording under the name The Poets – a trio comprising Tony Silvester, Donald McPherson and Luther Simmons – for Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird label, and later as The Insiders for RCA Records, the group underwent a further name change to The Main Ingredient, having seen the phrase on the side of a Coco Cola bottle. The opening track here, “You’ve Been My Inspiration” was the first to hit the US R&B top thirty, and a year later “I’m So Proud” (the group’s take on The Impressions’ song) and “Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love)” hit the top ten.

During 1971, Donald McPherson died from leukemia, to be replaced by Cuba Gooding Snr who, incidentally, already performed with the group when Donald was too ill to appear. With Cuba in the membership, the guys enjoyed their first serious hit with “Everybody Plays The Fool”. When, in 1973, the group felt they were ignoring their R&B audience, their fifth album “Afrodisiac” was deliberately aimed at the funk/soul music market. To further push home their intention, they recorded a trio of Stevie Wonder compositions, “Superwoman”, “Where Were You When I Needed You” and “Something About Love”, and with Syreeta Wright, “I Am Yours”, “Girl Blue” and “Something Lovely”. This current release from a group that was probably overlooked in the grand scheme of musical things, is a welcome reminder of just how talented they were.
Rating: 8

According to the accompanying blurb, this is the very first time fans can purchase such a comprehensive collection of songs from the Ohio Players, taking in as it does, releases spanning their first company, Capitol, through to Arista and Boardwalk. In other words, an entire overview of this funk band who, for a time, secured a successful niche in this particular market, which later haemorrhaged groups playing this musical genre. Anyway, this is a three CD package, where the first, “Early Years” visits their Capitol stay, before moving to Westbound and the group’s first R&B charttopper “Funky Worm” was released. With its blending of early hip hop and synthesiser solos, it was hard to ignore. “Pleasure”, “Pain” and “Ecstasy” likewise carry this company’s logo. The last two titles were lifted from their debut Mercury album “Skin Tight”, namely, the album’s title and “Jive Turkey”, which indicated their future musical path.

Onto the second CD, “The Golden Years” where the highlight “Fire” was considered to be the group’s signature song, with the catchy “Love Rollercoaster” following. The former track, liked by Stevie Wonder, includes an authentic fire engine siren and a guitar solo that’s been ‘borrowed’ numerous times over the years, while the latter, uses the fairground attraction to describe the yo-yo effect of relationships, with the sliding guitar funk riff neatly sewing up the song. A wah wah guitar (bring on Shaft!) leads into the jumpy “Body Vibes”, until tight vocals take over, then the beat changes level, making the voices looser. Hah, caught out with “Happy Holidays”, a seasonal ditty, complete with spoken words to enhance the Christmas message. OK: why not. “Who’d She Coo?”, naturally, is the highlight, representing as it does, the Ohio Player’s only UK hit at number 43 in July 1976.

Finally, the third CD, “The Later & Solo Years” covers the group’s Arista and Broadwalk Records period. Stand out tracks here include “Everybody Up” in its full length version, together with Junie Morrison solo outings, like “Love Has Taken Me Over (Be My Baby)”, and Sugerfoot’s 1985 take on “Fire”. The Ohio Players weren’t a group I’d taken much notice of at the time, and while I enjoyed a fair percentage of this trio of CDs, cannot say I was overwhelmed.
Rating: 6

I didn’t know how I was going to cope with this – four CDs crammed with heavy funk. How wrong I was. Sure there’s a lot of the weighty hitting sounds, but, hey, there’s also some compelling ballads to break the beat – like a welcome oasis in a blistering hot desert. A little background first though. Formed during 1966, the Bar-Kays were a studio session group, supporting Stax acts, until Otis Redding grabbed them as his own. As an independent musical unit, their first single “Soul Finger” in 1967 was a crossover US hit. The success was shortlived when, tragically, Otis and two thirds of the group died in December 1967 when their plane crashed into Lake Monona, near Madison, Wisconsin. In time, the band reformed to play on sessions with several Stax artists including Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” album, and when the Stax/Volt label folded during 1975, the Bar-Kays joined Mercury Records to forge a different, and this time more successful, career playing their own brand of funk music. Now, this heavyweight package of four CDs span 1980 and 1984 while under Mercury’s umbrella.

Starting with “As One”, a top ten US R&B title, it holds the pattern used in all four albums here with a mixture of dance and smooch; the latter being typified by “Take The Time To Love Somebody” which is both powerful and gentle. For dancing, the opening track “Boogie Body Land” fits the bill, with its mellow funk positive beat. I can’t move on without mentioning the final cut “Deliver Us” with its climaxing lush chorus of voices. Quite exceptional, and surprisingly exciting. A year following the release of “As One”, “Nightcruising” hit the shops in 1981 to earn the accolade as their best album yet. Not only did it also peak in the R&B top ten but passed gold status, thanks in part to their changing musical approach into a more current funk styling with the prolific use of synthesisers, so loved by artists like Stevie Wonder. Here the outstanding track for me was the unexpected “Feels Like I’m Falling In Love”, a gentle mover, so engaging with a full vocalled styling. Does it for me every time!

The third (and first on the second CD) “Propositions” from 1982, featured three hits, namely, the stomping funker “Do It (Let Me See You Shake)”, “She Talks To Me With Her Body” with its techno-funk feeling, and the gloriously touching, late night grooved ballad, “Anticipation”. However, one track irritated me beyond words – “(Busted)”, far too busy and cluttered – so moved on to the last CD in this package, “Dangerous” released in 1984, and my least liked. Having said that, “Freakshow On The Dance Floor” with its fast driving beat interrupted by splashes of sweet funk, rightly deserved its top two placing in the R&B chart, and top eighty crossover hit. Or, it could be that being featured in the 1984 movie “Breakdance:The Movie” (“Breakin’” – its American title) gave it a massive heave up. Calming down the pace, a pair of credible cuts ease and weave through the music, “Lovers Should Never Fall In Love” and “Make Believe Lover”. This is a fabulously priced package from a group that rose from the ashes of tragedy to keep their music alive.
Rating: 7