In 1966 Brenda Payton was a 16 year old youth leader working in Philadelphia’s parks with young school children. With co-workers Maurice Coates, Eddie Jackson and James Rucker, Brenda would put on musical shows for the kids and in best rags-to-riches style, record label owner Gilda Woods drove by one day – heard the foursome and signed them to her Dionn label. Within months the quickly named Brenda and the Tabulations had a top 20 pop hit with the dreamy ‘Dry Your Eyes’. More hits followed, all helmed by Bob Finiz, and when success slowed, Woods had the foursome work with Philly’s then young musical Turks – Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. When the small Dionn label folded, the lady exec formed a new one – Top And Bottom Records and Brenda and the boys became the label’s lead act with Washington’s Van McCoy drafted in as writer and producer. Hits of varying magnitude followed before McCoy and Brenda quit for Epic where the sweet voiced Philadelphian scored another hit in ’73 with ‘One Girl Too Late’. If all that history’s too much to take in then you can let the music do the talking with these two separate CDs which cover Brenda and the Tabulations time at both of Gilda Woods’ small Philly labels. Both are arranged in sequential order and offer the A and B sides of the group’s singles. Predictably each single seems to follow the pattern of the breakthrough. So there, where the A side was the delicious ‘Dry Your Eyes’, the B side was a pacey dance number – in this case ‘The Wash’. Of real interest on the Dionn album is the trio of Gamble and Huff songs – ‘A Reason To Live’, ‘That’s The Price You Have To Pay’ and ‘I Wish I Hadn’t Done That’. All three are classic early period G&H tracks and if you like the Intruders, you’ll love these. The set also contains lots of great pop ballads à la Ruby and the Romantics. The Top And Bottom album also boasts a number of ballads but, even with McCoy in charge, they’re a bit too poppy for real soul sensitivities, while the cover of ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ is a little redundant. Never huge stars, Brenda and the Tabulations went on to make a decent living on the oldies circuit before Brenda died at the too-young age of 46 in 1992. As both these albums testify she was a great soul stylist and hopefully these reissues will allow her (belatedly) to become much more than just a Philly footnote.