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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

October 31, 2008
The team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff has no musical equal. The two men produced and wrote some of the finest R&B and Soul albums of all time while heading up their imprint, Philadelphia International Records (P.I.R.). Utilizing their unparalleled musical sensibilities as well as their activist political leanings, Gamble & Huff regularly knocked out danceable but politically and socially conscious grooves. Tracks like The O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" or Billy Paul's "Am I Black Enough for You?" displayed massive pop appeal while remaining rooted in the social concerns of the 1970s. The songs collected on Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia, a new four-disc retrospective from Sony Legacy, were cherry-picked from the P.I.R. musical orchard and showcase the wide ranging musical talents of the label's roster. Love Train is also strong enough to serve as a chronicle of American popular music between the 1960s and 1980s - a kind of beautiful sonic history lesson taught over the course of 71 classic tracks.

The box set begins, as it should, during the early days of P.I.R. label. The Delfonics and Dusty Springfield kick things off with the former's signature falsetto and the latter's smoky sexy sweetness. Most listeners will be immediately struck by the familiarity of almost all of the songs in the collection, often without ever having heard the original. Almost every song included on Love Train has been sampled or interpolated by a plethora of hip-hop artists over the years, ranging from Wu-Tang Clan and Missy Elliot to Jay-Z and Schooly-D. On first listen, the brilliant rhythms set over lite-orchestration on the Delfonics tracks serve as an immediate reminder that today's noted "Superproducers" like RZA, Timbland and Kanye West are merely students in the musical classroom of Gamble and Huff, who have worked on more than 170 gold and platinum records.

The historical segue from Soul to Disco is uniquely charted on Love Train. While other labels like the Memphis-based Stax used less slick production techniques, Philadelphia International's sound was always as clean and as gorgeous as technically possible. String sections, harmonies and flawless instrumentation held sway in every recording session. Both the O'Jays and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes recordings' featured intensive orchestration and impeccable production - musical hallmarks which would eventually evolve into the sounds of Disco. Soul tracks like "Back Stabbers" and "For the Love of Money" were followed up by dance floor sensations like "Love Train" and "Don't Leave Me This Way." Gamble and Huff's musicianship was uniquely suited to the disco era, a time when their swirling string sections, laced with cowbell and thumping bass, were guaranteed to top the charts. In fact, during one nine-month stretch beginning in 1972, Gamble and Huff had five separate number one hits, which combined to sell more than 10 million records.

On the last disc of Love Train the P.I.R. sound can be heard evolving once again into several genres of music - most notably Adult Contemporary and Quiet Storm. Though there are a few groups included in the 17 tracks, most of the songs on the disc four are by individual artists. The breakup of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes led to the solo career of the most outstanding Blue Note, Teddy Pendergrass, who has several tracks in the collection; "Love T.K.O." in particular shines as a smooth but scorching slow-jam, destined to be sampled ad nauseam by hip hop artists (like west coast rapper Ahmad for his own classic track, "Back In The Day"). Pendergrass helped to forge the Quiet Storm genre, which featured smooth, emotional ballads usually underscored with a hint of adult sexuality or even menace. Other P.I.R. artists like Lou Rawls and Patti LaBelle helped to create Adult Contemporary, a genre quite similar to Quiet Storm, albeit with generally slicker production and absolutely-positively un-controversial subject matter.

By the end of the 71-track Love Train box set it is clear that P.I.R.'s time as groundbreaking label slowly came to pass. It is difficult to see how artists like "Back Stabbers"-era O'Jays and McFadden & Whitehead could even exist on the same label. The downfall of Philadelphia International was the loss of any semblance of the edginess that had once kept the label at the top of the charts. Rhetorically speaking: How can a label address the harsh realities of the Regan-era by only producing music categorized as Smooth Jazz? The label's slow retreat into the background was undoubtedly tied at least in part to its inability to answer that question.

Love Train is an incomparable collection of songs from a label that remained musically relevant as one of Motown's main peers for almost two decades. Fans of R&B and Soul will find dozens of perfect recordings in this collection of truly iconic material. Fans of hip-hop and electronic music will find the musical roots of hundreds of their favorite samples and beats. Track for track, Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia offers the kind of beautiful and educational listening experience that is almost impossible to find elsewhere.

SEE ALSO: www.gamble-huffmusic.com

Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.



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