Masters of Funk, Soul and Blues
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Masters of Funk, Soul and Blues

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by Bill Buckley

Ask any real soul fan to name their favourite musical cities and I'll bet that Detroit and Philadelphia will top the poll. This isn't the place to describe their contribution to soul's evolution ( we don't have enough space!) suffice to say that it was only a matter of time before the musical luminaries of Motown and Philly came together to celebrate each other's wonderful music – and that's exactly what this wonderful double collection does. "A Soulful Tale Of Two Cities" sees the stars of Motown tackle songs from the city of Brotherly Love while Philly icons take on the best of Detroit's back catalogue. Detroit artists number Ali Woodson, the Velvelettes, Carolyn Crawford, Bobby Taylor, Kim Weston, George Clinton, Lamont Dozier and Freda Payne while their musicians include Funk Brothers Bob Babbitt, Joe Hunter and Uriel Jones. The Philly contingent numbers Jean Carne, Carla Benson, Kathy Sledge, Major Harris, Bunny Sigler, Barbara Mason, Blue Magic's Ted Mills, Stylistic Russell Thompkins, Delfonic William Hart and MFSB-ers Bobby Eli, Vince Montana, T Conway and Charles Collins. If I then tell you that the featured songs include "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing", "Just My Imagination", "Ooh Baby Baby", "Ain't No Stopping Us Now", "Me And Mrs. Jones", "Love Won't Let Me wait" and "Close The Door", it's clear that a review is fundamentally redundant. The music (30 big cuts by the way) speaks for itself. We'll all find personal favourites – mine include album co-ordinator Phil Hurtt's take on "The Girls Alright With Me", Barbara Mason's visit to "My Baby Loves Me" and Bobby Taylor's version of "Sadie" where he sounds uncannily like Philippe Wynne. But don't get me wrong, this isn't an exercise in karaoke soul – it's all fresh and vital… witness Bunny Sigler and Jean carne's searing version of Rick James's "Fire And Rain" to hear what I mean. In honesty though any cut will prove that the music and artists of Philadelphia and Detroit can still deliver soul as passionate and committed as they did back in the day. 5 out of 5 - Blues and Soul Magazine


by Barry Towler

I had wind of this project back last summer and was very, very intrigued by it. I did not know that this was to be a tribute album from Philly to Motown and Vice-versa. All I knew was that Phil Hurtt was amassing a mighty amount of talent for an amazing project. That was enough for me. Well, here it is. Some may dismiss this as "Shanachie-style thinking" but please don't imagine for a minute that is anything so mundane. This is a historical recording, no more, no less. Hurtt maintains that the inspiration for this was divine. I won't dispute that, nor will I deny that amassing such talents together as Jean Carne, Bunny Sigler, Kathy Sledge, Phil Hurtt, Ted Mills, Major Harris, Jimmy Ellis, Will Hart, Russell Thompkins Jr, Ali "Ollie" Woodson, Freda Payne, Lamont Dozier, The Velvelettes, Carolyn Crawford, George Clinton, Bobby Taylor and Kim Weston to record as notthing short of heavenly. It is immensely gratifying to hear these great, great artists sounding as good in 2007 as they did in the 60s and 70s. What's more magical is the fact that the surviving members of MFSB and The Funk Brothers wade in to lend musical support. You cannot beat real instruments being played by real musicians.

Disc One is where "Philly does Motown. There are a number of really, truly classy moments here but what does detract a shade is that there are no strings. If only Paul Riser or Larry Gold were on hand to bolster proceedings, then this would have been taken to a much higher plane. Bunny Sigler's version of "Ain't Nothin' Like The Real Thing" is magical. The man is in his sixties but his voice has not aged one iota. This is almost gospel-like, and this splendidly matches the reverential tone that the track has. When Bunny sings, like Meli'sa Morgan recently, you know that this is a person who knows what he's singing is true, and in this soulless age carries more clout. Many cover versions are just words set to music. Bunny's soul-wrenching rendition tears up the song into his own image. If this song isn't heavenly and devine then I really don't know what is. The real Philly flavour hits us hard with the beautiful rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet". Russell Thompkins Jr sings this in a lower, more natural register and allows his baritone free reign near the end of the track. The Philly guitar that merrily strums along does the version justice.

Bunny Sigler joins forces with Jean Carne for the Rick James / Teena Marie collaboration "Fire And Desire". Again, these two giants re-weave the song with their own unique thread, yet managing to stay faithfulo to the original arrangement. In all seriousness, Rick James could have written this with Bunny Sigler in mind. Bunny does an amazing job on here. This sensitive, sympathetic version can do nothing but win applause. I had wondered what had happened to Ted Mills since the fragmentation of Blue Magic, but my answer that here he was laying down a truly magnificent version of the classic Norman Whitfield song "Just My Imagination". The musical arrangement is sympathetic yet allows Ted to improvise his soaring falsetto in a way that wasn't afforded when Eddie Kendricks worked his own magic with it. We get a real taste of Philly with Will Hart on "Just Ask The Lonely". All we are missing are the soaring strings. Will still sounds fresh, and I feel that this style suits him a lot better than the recent material he did with The Delfonics for Volt.

Ali "Ollie" Woodson will always be a favourite of mine, and since he left the Temptations I have yeasrned for more material from the man. Just one solo CD and a few guest spots here and there just ain't good enough! His interpretations of "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" and "For The Love Of Money" are bouyant and jaunty and one can tell that the man is having a ball. Check the funky guitar on the latter! Bobby Eli having a hand in there I have no doubt! Freda Payne sounds great on the cover of "Betcha By Golly Wow" and sounds very similar to the late, great Phyllis Hyman when she lets herslf go. The backing singers are magnificent – and considering they are made up by Pree, Carolyn Crawford, Gabrielle Hurtt and Pat Lewis I should not have been surprised. The Spinners' "One Of A Kind Love Affair" is given a great reading from The Velvelettes and has a great sound that is what they deem "PhilaTroit" - somewhere between Philly and Motown. Production comes from the legendary Clay McMurray, Bunny Sigler, Bobby Eli and Phil Hurtt. Add the musicians Bob Babbitt on bass, Uriel Jones and Spider Webb on drums, Robert Jones on keys and Treaty Womack on congas its not surprising we have such an eclectic fusion.

One of the real surprises for me was to hear George Clinton singing "Love Won't Let Me Wait". His voice may be a little more fragile now but the frailty may be more by design than anything else in keeping with the beautiful lush arrangement. This is a far cry from his work with Parliament! Theo Primas is - Soul Express Magazine


Motown and Philly swap songs for 'Soulful' set

For soul fans, the news last year was tantalizing: Classic Motown and Philly soul artists would collaborate on a project that would have the Philly artists giving their spin on some famed Motown songs and the Detroiters interpreting Philly soul gems. Many of the artists involved were singing as well as ever but just needed a new break and the right old-school musicianship and producers behind them. Anticipation was high.

Now, the two-CD set, "A Soulful Tale of Two Cities," is out today, available at cdbaby.com or at soulfultale.com. The CD set is made up of two discs -- "Philly does Motown" and "Motown does Philly." Producers Phil Hurtt, along with Motown's Lamont Dozier and Clay McMurray -- joined by Bobby Eli of the famed studio group MFSB, Bunny Sigler, the Funk Brothers and veteran Philly soul engineer Gene Leone -- were behind the controls and performing in the studio for the action, which took place in Philly and Detroit.

The "Philly does Motown" side starts out kicking with Jean Carne's supercharged version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." Other highlights: producer Hurtt polishes off a stunning falsetto for "The Girl's Alright"; Jimmy Ellis of the Trammps makes "Isn't She Lovely" even livelier than the Wonder original, if that's possible; and the side ends with a six-minute Philly soul party sung into outer space by Sigler on Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up."

Then it's Motown's turn. Ollie Woodson of the Temptations shines on the Philly classics "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" and "(For the Love of) Money." Dozier, who was a singer long before he was a Motown songwriter/producer, stuns with his gut-wrenching, on the floor, begging "Me and Mrs. Jones." Cal Street is better than ever with her Velvelettes on "One of a Kind Love Affair"; and Bobby Taylor is a revelation on "Love Train," "Sunshine" and "Sadie."

The pleasure of this CD is multi-faceted: You're reminded of the great original song, you get to each city's soul masters put their own stamp on the competition's songs and you can enjoy the kind of vocals that need no computer wizardry to yank them into tune. Quibbles? One or two, vastly outweighed by the plusses. Get ready for what Kathy Sledge calls on "Dancing in the Streets," a "Philatroit" good time. Grade: A- - Susan Whitall - Detroit News


Phil Hurtt couldn't sleep. That was the problem that set the stage for an epiphany. As the noted Philadelphia producer and songwriter lay awake, tossing and turning in bed one night in 2004, he thought about many things, including his city and his music. That's when an inspiration hit him. In the 60s, Detroit was the center of the music universe, as Motown rightly declared itself the "Sound of Young America." In the 70s, the mantle passed to Philadelphia, with Philadelphia International Records and other local labels bringing a sophisticated, orchestral yet danceable sound to the forefront. But success had receded in both places years ago, perhaps the victim of changing times, perhaps of bad decisions by record executives, perhaps due to the nature of the music industry itself. Yet one thing hadn't gone from Detroit and Philly: the talent. Some had died and everyone (especially the Detroit artists) had aged, but there was still talent. That's what hit Hurtt in the middle of the night. He knew the artists, the musicians, the producers. What if he could bring them all back together for a celebration of those two great cities and eras? Even better, what if he could create a concept project where Philly artists paid homage to Detroit and Detroit artists celebrated Philadelphia? With his ambitious idea in mind, Hurtt says, "I didn't sleep for two years."

Hurtt's goal was not only to get back together with friends in a familiar setting -- the recording studio -- but also to remind the world of the immense talent that was and is present in the two cities, talent that has often failed to receive its just due. During 2005 and 2006 he brought together an amazing collection of artists to fulfill his dream. Legendary performers like Freda Payne, Lamont Dozier and George Clinton as well as lead vocalists from the Trammps, the Stylistics, Blue Magic, the Three Degrees, Sister Sledge and the Delfonics came together. Better yet, Hurtt nabbed the legendary "house bands" of Motown and PIR, The Funk Brothers and MFSB, and began putting the pieces together, flying from Philly to Detroit and back again for multiple recording sessions.

The mass collective called themselves The Masters of Funk, Soul and Blues and the resulting recording, the 2-disc A Soulful Tale of Two Cities, was released in January, 2007.

For lovers of all that was right with popular soul music of the 60s and 70s, A Soulful Tale is an absolute treasure. Beginning with Jean Carne's smoking cover of the Stevie Wonder classic "Higher Ground," the collection runs through a well thought out selection of memorable hits from the two cities. Interestingly, the stars of Soulful Tale are not the Smokey Robinsons and O'Jays that were the faces of their respective labels, but are many of the lesser known but incredibly talented artists of the same era. So MFSB and the Funk Brothers, who are only recently receiving their well deserved public praise, are spotlighted here and sound terrific. And underrated singers such as Carne, Russell Thompkins Jr. (of the Stylistics), Ted "The Wizard" Mills (of Blue Magic), Jimmy Ellis (of the Trammps) and former Temptations lead Ali Ollie Woodson shine. Perhaps the biggest treat is hearing the strong, memorable vocal performances of a handful of men who were largely cast as writers or producers during the heyday of Detroit and Philadelphia. So cuts like the slow, Gospel-like take on "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" by Bunny Sigler, the soulful cover of "Sunshine" by Motown's Bobby Taylor, Lamont Dozier's take on "Me and Mrs. Jones" and Hurtt's falsetto, big band rendition of "The Girl's Alright" are particularly pleasing surprises.

It's easy to give A Soulful Tale of Two Cities the benefit of the doubt and to want to like it, due to the presence of so many talented, underappreciated artists. But fortunately, nostalgia doesn't have to play a role in enjoying this disc. It stands on its own as a singular pleasure and a welcome platform for an amazing group of performers who sound as good in 2007 as they did decades earlier.

Highly recommended.
- Chris Rizik - SoulTracks


Must admit that this CD did raise a wry smile for this old Soul fan. In a way, this illustrates just how far things have gone pear shaped for those with the genuine talent and ability out there, whilst those of little or no substance rule the current musical roost. Perhaps this is a reflection of society on a larger scale presently, especially as, what amounts to a racist yob can, through ill chosen comments on a television programme, cause a diplomatic incident between two generally harmonious global communities. I digress as usual. That is the nature of this beast! Another side to this beast is a a genuine admiration regarding the Soul artist Lamont Dozier. Lamont Dozier is an individual who can be described by one word. Quality. Lamont doesn't release the bulk of product that used to grace our local record store's shelves in the 1970's, however, when the spirit moves him, we are all the better for it.

'A Soulful Tale Of Two Cities' represents the collaboration of the sounds of Detroit and those of Philadelphia. The Funk Brothers meet the great MFSB. To enhance proceedings, various artists from each of the respective communities come together to produce a double album of classics from their respective rich musical stables. There is a listing below of the tracks, so you really pays your money and you makes your choice. Funnily enough, way back some 50 years ago there were two versions of the group the Romeo's. Lamont Dozier was part of the Detroit version...Kenny Gamble the Philly version. Now the various parties come together. Some classic melodies here, delivered by each of their cities finest Soulful exponents. The first release of substance for 2007. Lamont's take on Teddy P's 'Close The Door' really is quite lovely.
- Toby Walker - Soulwalking


This is a very interesting album. One of the biggest trends in Soul
music over the past few years has been that complete "cover albums" have
become more and more popular. Some people don't like this trend, because
they want to hear completely brand new music. Others don't like the
trend, because they think that for some reason these songs "shouldn't be
touched" and want them treated as "museum pieces frozen in time". Still
others feel that Classic Soul artists shouldn't be releasing any new
albums and feel that fans should kinda/sorta be content with the music
these artists produced 20 - 50 years ago

However in my opinion the whole idea of having artists who didn't
originate classic songs "re-do them in their own style" speaks volumes
about both the greatness and timelessness of the songs themselves. This
is why we sometimes use the term "Black American Standard Music" to
describe the phenomena, treating this music as "standards" is exactly
what we should do, in my opinion. What's so terrible about taking on the
responsibility for elevating the culture we have created?

The two disc set called "A Soulful Tale of Two Cities" takes this idea
even a step further and has artists associated with the "Motown Sound"
doing songs that were originally done as a part of the "Philly Sound".
And conversely has artists associated with the "Philly Sound" doing
songs that were originally done as a part of the "Motown Sound".

Overall the results are very good however for my ears Ted Mills ("Just
My Imagination"), Barbara Mason ("My Baby Loves Me") and Bobby Taylor
are the stars of the two disc set. Ted Mills and Barbara Mason are two
of my favorite singer's period, so their outstanding performances were
certainly no surprise. However the real discovery on this album for me
was the amazing Mr. Bobby Taylor. As amazing as this might sound, in my
opinion after listening to his renditions of "Love Train", "Sunshine",
and "Sadie", he could easily be the lead singer for either the O'Jays or
the Spinners.

Standout cuts include "The Girl's Alright" (featuring Phil Hurtt), "Just
My Imagination" (featuring Ted Mills), "My Baby Loves Me" (featuring
Barbara Mason), "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" (featuring Ali "Ollie"
Woodson), "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" (featuring Carolyn
Crawford), "Love Train" (featuring Bobby Taylor), "Close the Door"
(featuring Lamont Dozier), "Sunshine" (featuring Bobby Taylor), "Sadie"
(featuring Bobby Taylor), "When the World is at Peace" (featuring George
Clinton, Bobby Taylor, Kathy Sledge, Ali "Ollie" Woodson & Kim Weston)

Overall I would say that this is an album worth having if you are a
person who thinks that these songs are a part of "An American Songbook"
that has yet to be placed on the bookshelves, but that already exists in
the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world. Hopefully
the album will find it's audience and when that audience discovers the
album, that they will support it in numbers that will enable these
artists to create a "A Soulful Tale of Two Cities (Vol 2)"
- Bob Davis - Soul Patrol


Discography

'A Soulful Tale of Two Cities', featuring the singles "Love Train" with Bobby Taylor, "Got To Give It Up" with Bunny Sigler and "When the World Is at Peace" with George Clinton, Bobby Taylor, Kathy Sledge, Ali "Ollie" Woodson & Kim Weston

Available at:
CD Baby
Amazon
Soul Brother (UK)
Buysoul.com
and other music retailers worldwide

Photos

Bio

'A Soulful Tale of Two Cities' brings together artists and musicians from Detroit and Philadelphia, two of America’s most legendary and prolific music Meccas. The album features two distinctive sounds: The Motown Sound, which emerged in the 1950s as a combination of church, pop, and blues performed with Jazz musicians, and The Philly Sound, which combined the already established Motown Sound with strings and horns, putting “a bow tie on soul.”

The combination of Motown and the new Philly sound brought freshness to the industry, and both Detroit and Philly continued to thrive as main
hubs for the production of great R&B music.

Headlining artists featured on the album include such legends as George Clinton, Kathy Sledge, Major Harris, Freda Payne, Lamont Dozier, Bobby Taylor, Barbara Mason, Bunny Sigler, Jean Carne, Jimmy Ellis, Kim Weston and Ali “Ollie” Woodson.

“A Soulful Tale of Two Cities” is the brainchild of executive producer Phil Hurtt, who is also president and CEO of Philadelphia-based Soul Renaissance Records. Hurtt, an award-winning songwriter, producer, and arranger, began his career in the 1950s as a performer and soon became one of the most sought-after vocalists in the industry. Hurtt was also an integral part of a group of highly regarded writers, producers, musicians and singers whose work is currently acknowledged by many in the music industry as “The Sound of Philadelphia.” In addition to releasing two albums of his own, Hurtt wrote and produced for some of the time’s top artists including The O’Jays, Sister Sledge, and many more. In recent years his music and voice have been sampled by hip-hop and R&B artists
including Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and DMX.

With the combination of Hurtt’s experience and leadership, an extraordinary team of producers, arrangers, and writers, and an impressive assortment of legendary musicians, “A Soulful Tale of Two Cities” promises to be a truly remarkable album. In Hurtt’s words, “these artists are masters; they already have a fan base, they already have a following, they already have the knowledge, the know how, the experience, to do whatever they need to do musically... these are the people that can do it, and have done it, these are the ones you hear every day and don’t always remember who they are. But you can’t forget the way they sound.”