THE DELLS: ‘Then & Now’ (Label: Dellsway)

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THE DELLS: 'Then & Now'

The legendary Illinois-based vocal quintet, The Dells, is undoubtedly one of soul music’s greatest groups. In a career that stretches back through the mists of time to 1952 when Marvin Junior, Verne Allison, Mickey McGill, Chuck Barksdale and Johnny Funches got together as a doo-wop-inspired combo called the El-Rays, The Dells achieved chart hits in five consecutive decades in their native USA: from 1956 – when they hit the US R&B Top 5 with their debut smash, ‘Oh What A Nite’ – right up to 1992, the group appeared an incredible 46 times on Billboard’s R&B chart (this feat makes them the 45th best-selling act in soul music history). And, as any well-read soul fan will know, the group’s biggest smash was the anthemic ballad, ‘Stay In My Corner,’ as recorded for Chess’s Cadet subsidiary in 1968 (this was after they’d cut an earlier, less successful version, for Vee-Jay). This durable group’s success has not been limited to hit records – they have won numerous awards, including a prestigious Emmy for their documentary ‘Oh What A Night.’ Arguably, though, the pinnacle of their achievements was getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2004. Although The Dells’ glory days are now consigned to history, perhaps, the group is still going strong, and apart from one personnel change – in 1961 when ex-Flamingo Johnnie Carter replaced Johnny Funches – the original line up is still intact. As alluded to by its title, this new album – released on the group’s own label – brings together some old, already issued, cuts and combines them with some new and previously unheard tracks liberated from the group’s archives. Unfortunately, the opening track, ‘Don’t Tell Her About Me,’ is a bit of a rarity for The Dells – a dud track. The vocals are impeccable, of course, but it’s the programmed ’80s-style instrumentation that is at fault. Like many songs intended for the dance floor in that era, the track has dated badly due to a robotic drum machine and tinny-sounding synthesisers. After this slight blemish, though, the rest of the album is what soul fans have learned to expect from a group that’s as robust, awe-inspiring and monumental as Mount Rushmore – there are plenty of soulful, impassioned lead vocal parts combined with the kind of rich, high-quality, supporting call-and-response harmonies that have been The Dells’ hallmark for over half-a-century. ‘Reminiscing’ is a breezy, gently undulating uptempo number that would fill up Modern Room dance floors, while the pleading ‘I Need You,’ ‘Baby Come Back,’ ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ and ‘Free To Be Free’ showcase the group’s undoubted metier for romantic ballads. To buy this CD, go to:
(CW) 4/5