ARCHIE BELL and the DRELLS: The Albums 1968-79 (Robin Songs)

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Despite having enjoyed 20 major US hit singles (and 5 in the UK), Texan stalwarts Archie Bell and the Drells have never been considered a major league soul group. Maybe this wonderful new compilation might force some sort of reconsideration as ‘The Albums 1968 – 1979’  is stuffed with classy, quality soul music.

The box set delivers 79 tracks across 5 CDs and as the set’s title suggests it presents the band’s seven albums alongside a slew of non-album singles and B sides. Maybe then, the title isn’t quite accurate. That doesn’t matter one jot though. What matters is the soulful soundscape – a joyous sound that  reminds you of why you became involved in the crazy soul world in the first place!

First a little bio. Archie and his Drells came blasting out of Texas on the back of a simple but effective, riff-driven dance track ‘Tighten Up’. When licensed by Atlantic in 1968, the tune shot to number 1 and, despite leading light Archie being in the army, the band went on to enjoy further success with Atlantic and eventually with Gamble and Huff’s PIR set up. Not surprisingly, given how they broke through with a dance item, most of their songs were dance related. Indeed at least a third of the tracks in this compendium have the word “dance” or something related to dancing and/or disco in the title! And just maybe that’s why Archie and the boys aren’t considered major contenders. Maybe too many people consider things like ‘Do The Choo Choo’, ‘I Just Can’t Stop Dancing’, ‘The Soul City Walk’ et al just a little lightweight? In my book that’s nonsense. Those tracks and a whole lot more will always bring on a smile and (if you still can ) might get you out on the floor. What’s wrong with fun, joy and happiness – this collection delivers plenty!

The set is organized chronologically (naturally) and you can hear  the Drells’ sound developing  from the simple innocence of their early work to a more sophisticated take on the dance idiom as Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff take the production helm. Indeed you can hear that mighty duo’s sound  evolve too – from things like the aforementioned ‘Do The Choo Choo’ to the lushness of the similarly aforementioned ’Soul City Walking’. And on the big ballads like ‘I’ve Been Missing You’ and ‘There’s No Other Like You’ you can make comparison  to the majestic music being made by groups like Harold Melvin’s Bluenotes. Those two 70s cuts (and several more) show that Archie and his Drells could do a lot more than cut the jolly old rug! Even starting out in ’68 he did a great job of dear Curtis Mayfield’s ‘I’ve Been Trying’

This set’s sleeve notes come from my esteemed SJF colleague Charles Waring so you can bet they’re entertaining, informative and accurate; so dip in and have a serious  think about Mr Bell and his legacy. Archie, by the way, is now 79 and taking things easy and he can be rightly proud of what he achieved. The proof’s in this lovely, little box set!

(BB) 4/5