Expansion Records curate a number of excellent compilation series but I’m guessing that it’s the Spirit Of Philadelphia series that is closest to Expansion head man, Ralph Tee’s heart. Ralph’s a self-confessed Philly freak and few soul music people know as much about the music of the City Of Brotherly Love than he does so you’d expect any Philly project that he’s involved in to be first class and this fourth instalment of the series is just that.
Like the previous three sets, number 4 boasts a selection of Philly tunes from the city’s music heyday, the 70s /early 80s and, again, like volumes 1-3, the selected cuts are all hugely collectable and/or rare … most making their CD debut. Interestingly, given the reach and role of the Gamble-Huff network, nothing here is directly linked to them… though almost everything on offer features musicians, producers and arrangers who’ve worked with the dynamic duo! A great example is ‘Ready Willing And Able’ from the mighty Temptations. Written by Thom Bell, the song was recorded at Sigma and arranged by Don Renaldo. Little wonder that it has all the hallmarks of a true Philly classic.
From 1981, it was from the group’s eponymous album for which Berry Gordy sent the Tempts down to Philadelphia to record, hoping that some of the city’s then current musical magic would rub off onto his boys! In a similar fashion, many more soul stars flocked to Philly to grab some of the magic. Ben E King did just that in 1976 and from those sessions, this collection offers his Baker-Harris-Young production, ‘No Danger Ahead’… a Sam Dees’ song no less.
Other “known” names featured amongst the generous 17 cuts include The Futures, Ronnie Dyson. The Tymes and The Philly Devotions. Their contributions (indeed all contributions) are typically “Philly”… lush, sophisticated, sweet and smooth and aimed mainly at the dancing fraternity. The collection’s only ballad is ‘Fancy Meeting You Here’ from veteran Lenny Welch. With an arrangement from Thom Bell, you can hear echoes of things like ‘Me And Mrs Jones’ and ‘The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me’… lovely stuff.
The album comes complete with though sleeve notes from Ralph Tee and even the most ardent Philly expert is bound to learn something new… like how the opening track, ‘How Have You Been’ from horn player Everett ‘Blood’ Hollins led to creation of Chic!
Expansion’s’ The Spirit Of Philadelphia 4′ is out now.