THE MANHATTANS: It Feels So Good (Soul Music Records)

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Till they signed with Columbia in 1973 the Manhattans were soul journey men. The New Jersey quintet, who started out at the end of the doo-wop era, had moderate success with Carnival and Deluxe but after pacting with the major and teaming up with Philly soul maestro Bobby Martin they hit the big time. The move coincided with the premature death of George Smith and his eventual replacement by the smoother voiced Gerald Alston and the trimming down of the group to quartet size as Richie Taylor left to embrace Islam with a missionary zeal.

The new Manhattans and their collaborators created a whole new “Manhattans sound” – mellow, lush, urbane and romantic, with the songs often featuring lugubrious spoken passages. It still remained soulful, however, mining the same vein that Philly-based artists like Lou Rawls and the Stylistics were working (the influence of Martin is obvious) and they were soon enjoying hits with songs like ‘Hurt’ and ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye’ .

Oddly, given, their popularity, the Manhattans’ back catalogue has been sadly neglected by the reissue labels. Now, though, the reliable David Nathan-curated Soul Music Records allows us to enjoy the Manhattans at their peak with the reissue of this, the group’s second Columbia long player, 1977’s ‘It Feels So Good’ – named for the song that gave the quartet another smash. The song written by master tunesmith Teddy Randazzo is perfect for Alston’s sweet soul vocal and the whole production – from Blue Lovett’s spoken intro to the perfect harmonies – is archetypical of the Manhattans’ signature sound. More of the same on ‘I Kinda Miss You’, ‘Up On The Street’, ‘Let’s Start All Over Again’, ‘I’ll See You Tomorrow’, ‘It Just Can’t Stay This way’ and ‘Too Much For Me To Bear’. Realistically the team , realizing that a whole album of ballads would be too cloying, included a disco-lite item (‘It’s You’) while the loose, hand-clapping ‘Mind Your Business’ recalls the group’s street-corner roots. All great 70s stuff and if you want more, this reissue offers four bonus cuts – single mixes of the hits.

Interestingly there are two versions of the Manhattans still working. One is led by original member Sonny Bivens, the other contains Blue Lovett and Gerald Alston – happy to be back in a group format after a decent solo career which included a stint at Motown. I wonder if either of the groups feature material from this album in their shows?

(BB) 3/5