THE DELLS: ‘The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke’s Greatest Hits’ (Label: Dusty Groove America)

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THE DELLS: 'The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke's Greatest Hits'

No, the title doesn’t contain a typo – back in 1972, when The Dells recorded this amazing tribute to the singer dubbed by European audiences ‘the Black Pearl,’ Dionne Warwick had added the letter ‘e’ at the end of her surname on the advice of a numerologist (mercifully, the chanteuse came to her senses not long afterwards). But, to tell the truth, this remarkable album (originally released on Chess’s Cadet subsidiary) is more about the work of tunesmiths Bacharach & David than Dionne Warwick – after all, Warwick was little more than a vehicle for the songwriting duo’s sophisticated and well-crafted brand of easy listening music. Here, Windy City producer Charles Stepney – who was crucial to the early success of Minnie Riperton, Terry Callier and Earth, Wind & Fire – helps the Dells transform eleven classic Bacharach-David songs made famous by Warwick(e) into stirring Chi-town soul symphonies. In fact, thanks to Stepney’s imaginative arranging skills, in some cases the Dells’ versions actually transcend the originals. Indeed, it’s apparent from the very first track – a rousing, sanctified rendering of ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ featuring the group’s rich vocal harmonies – that this is no mere by-numbers covers album. ‘Walk On By’ also gets the epic Stepney treatment, with swirling strings combining with the group’s impassioned voices to create a rich, kaleidoscopic tapestry of sound that can make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Stepney’s ornate arrangements possess a baroque-like opulence, though they never overwhelm or swamp the Dells’ five-part harmonies. Striking and sumptuous versions of ‘Close To You,’ ‘This Guy’s In Love With You,’ ‘I Say A Little Prayer,’ ‘Alfie’ and ‘A House Is Not A Home’ seduce the ear but perhaps most noteworthy of all is the funked-up, seven-minute retooling of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,’ with Phil Upchurch’s wah-wah guitar featuring prominently. Given how significant this LP is in the Dells’ canon, it’s mystifying that it hasn’t been reissued on CD before – thanks, though, to those discerning folks at Dusty Groove in Chicago (, this magnificent album is available again. Snap it up while you can.
(CW) 5/5