THE DELFONICS: ‘The Delfonics’ and ‘Tell Me This Is A Dream’ (Label: Kent)

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THE DELFONICS: 'The Delfonics' and 'Tell Me This Is A Dream'

Led by the ethereal falsetto voice of William Hart, the Philadelphia vocal trio The Delfonics first made their mark on the US charts with the catchy 45 ‘La-La-Means I Love You’ for Stan Watson’s Philly Groove label in early 1968. Although the song was a big Stateside crossover smash (it just failed to grab the top spot on the R&B lists, stalling at #2 and made #4 on the pop charts), The Delfonics issued a succession of singles in its wake during the next two years but none failed to emulate their debut hit’s lofty chart position. However, in 1970, the group’s continuing liaison with producer/writer/arranger Thom Bell resulted in arguably the defining track of their career – the haunting ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).’ Opening with a repeated two-note French horn clarion call, the song – which features an exotic-sounding electric sitar combined with lush string and brass charts that frame William Hart’s fragile, seraphic lead vocal – is now viewed as a classic example of what came to be known as symphonic soul. It rose to #3 in the US charts and its popularity spread to the UK, where in 1971 it was released on the Bell label and worked its way into the pop charts on two occasions in the space of one month (it eventually peaked at #22). The track turned up as the lead cut on The Delfonics’ eponymous fourth LP release, which included two other smashes – namely ‘Trying To Make A Fool Of Me’ and the groovy ‘When You Get Right Down To It.’ That classic 1970 album forms one-half of this new Kent ‘twofer’ and is combined with the The Delfonics’ follow up album, ‘Tell Me This Is A Dream,’ from 1972 (by which time singer Major Harris had replaced the departing Randy Cain). The latter album wasn’t as successful as its predecessor and failed to yield a Top 10 US single – though three 45s lifted from it (‘Hey Love,’ ‘Walk Up Right To The Sun’ and ‘Tell Me This Is A Dream’) sold sufficiently well to register in the US R&B Top 20. Even so, it’s often been assumed by some soul commentators that the absence of Thom Bell, who stopped working with The Delfonics before they cut ‘Tell Me This Is A Dream’ was a key factor in their commercial decline. Certainly, the group’s post-Bell material doesn’t hit the epic heights of ‘La-La-Mean I Love You’ or ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’ but with Philly Groove maestro Stan Watson at the helm and William Hart penning much of the material, there’s no dramatic dip in quality evident on ‘Tell Me This Is A Dream.’ Still, unable to yield a Top 10 crossover hit as ‘The Delfonics’ album had with ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),’ it’s no surprise that the ‘Tell Me This Is A Dream’ LP has been much overlooked – as much, it has to be said, by the so-called soul experts as the group’s fans. Its presence here certainly makes this CD a desirable item and Tony Rounce’s copious liner notes, which provide the historical context to the music, enhance what is a splendid Philly soul compilation.
(CW) 4/5