I don’t usually review CDs that are more than a few weeks old. Often they are in my hand as an advance copy, well before release date. But I am making a rare exception with this one. Larry Carlton’s interpretation of some classic Philly soul tunes.
It is one that forsome unknown reason passed me by when it came out last year, and until the PR man for the record label told me about it and sent it with Larry’s (great) new album, (also reviewed here) I knew not of its existence. I am so glad I do now. It is gorgeous.
It helps that I love most of the Philadelphia International catalogue. Part of the soundtrack to my younger years. What better way to mark their 40th anniversary than put this CD on loud in the car, with top down in the spring or summer sunshine and head to the coast, or the nearest pub garden! But I make the exception to review an album that has been out a good while, for two reasons: Larry and Carlton. OK, that’s one reason!
Larry has had 19 Grammy nominations and four wins. He has 30 albums of his own and features on over 100 Gold and Platinum records by such megastars as Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Quincy Jones, The Crusaders and Fourplay. He can do little wrong in the eyes of most guitarists around the globe, and music fans of jazz, blues and many other genres.
If it has his name on it, then it is rather like a company’s products being granted the right to say “By appointment to the Queen.” A guarantee of top quality. This album is pure quality. He does not mess with the original arrangements and melody too much, which is the right decision on such iconic songs, and agrees with the adage: Why fix what ain’t bust? He allows the songs to be the Guvnor, and adds magic and huge value, with his magnificent guitar licks on all 11 tracks.
Larry tackles The Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” as the opener, and their hits “I’ll Be Around” and “Mighty Love.” He gives us some classics, such as The O’Jays’ “Backstabbers”, a joy here. We get Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, Jerry Butler’s “Bad Luck,” “Only The Strong Survive” and “Never Give You Up.” The Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Perhaps a surprise choice is, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” which was a US top ten hit in 1979 for Elton John from the Thom Bell Sessions EP, which featured backing vocals by The Spinners.
For me, the best track on the CD; Joe Simon’s “Drownin’ In The Sea of Love”. A cracking song anyway, but here Larry is on fire. He bends those strings and gets the same tone the late great legendary Albert King did. A truly mighty performance.
Mainly an instrumental CD, but we do have background vocalists adding to some choruses and the smoky voice of hit songwriter Bill Labounty takes the lead on “Drowning in the Sea of Love” and “Only the Strong Survive.” Mega songwriter, but a hot voice too – perfect fit here. There’s a six strong horn section and a classy five-piece rhythm section that includes, Late Show with David Letterman MD, Paul Shaffer, on organ. The charts are spot on, it is all terrific material and so the concrete foundations are all there to allow Larry to shine. Shine brightly he does.
Around 40 minutes long; apart from wishing it was a double CD, there’s nothing I can say to fault this smashing little shiny piece of plastic. How could I when it has those two magic words of warranty on it? Larry Carlton. Let’s see him visit the Stax and Atlantic back catalogues next, pretty please…
Larry Carlton’s latest album, Larry Carlton Plays the Sound of Philadelphia: A Tribute to Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, was recently reviewed by Vintage Guitar magazine. Check it out:
On this album, some of the most soulful songs in the history of pop music get lush melodic arrangements accompanied by a guitarist noted for his technical skill and soulful playing. But is it a good fit? The answer is “yes.” And while some may argue the song selection and arrangements here play it too safe, anyone familiar with later Wes Montgomery records could argue there is no better way!
The Spinners were a big part of the Sound of Philly, and theirs are three of the best cuts here. Carlton uses octaves and double-stops for the melody on “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” Vocals fill the chorus, while Carlton plays melodic fills and an on-the money solo. “I’ll Be Around” stands as a high point. The other Spinners tune, “Mighty Love,” gets the full 335 treatment on the melody with a big, fat sound that cuts like a knife through butter. Cuts like “Back Stabbers,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” feature Carlton covering the melodies, darting around chord changes, and lending the necessary soul.
Some won’t like the arrangements, the addition of voices, or the song choices on this set. But it’s difficult to question Carlton’s soulfulness and ability.
John Patten and John Kelman from All About Jazz have each covered the new album and their articles can be found at the following links:
John Kelman – http://tinyurl.com/5w2uatx
John Patten – http://tinyurl.com/6ywjvh2
Lee Mergner from JazzTimes has also wrote an article on the album which can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/6hpv4fa
Brian Soergel’s review at The Urban Music Scene can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/4mukp52
Since 1963, the songwriting and producing team of Gamble and Huff has earned 175 gold and platinum records, defining an entire category of Black popular music known as “The Sound of Philadelphia.” They were inducted into the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995, and were awarded the prestigious Grammy Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1999. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Philadelphia International Records.
Larry Carlton and his legendary guitar skills are backed by some amazing musicians including Paul Shaffer-organ, Tony DeSare-piano, Tommy Byrnes-rhythm guitar, Christopher Jackson-bass, Bill LaBounty-vocals, Andrea Valentini-drums, Vic Stevens-percussion, Mark Douthit-sax, Darcy Hepner-baritone sax, Steve Guttman-trumpet, Nick Marchione-trumpet, Dave Kirkland-trombone, and Chris Komer-french horn. This line-up brings these timeless classics back to life with a new twist that will make this unique record a must have.