Unmistakably Lou was Lou Rawls second album for Philadelphia International Records. Released in May 1977, it was the follow-up to All Things In Time, released in June 1976. All Things In Time would be a hard act to follow for Lou, as it had reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. The album also featured a number one US R&B single You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, which reached number two in the US Billboard 100. With a commercially successful album and one critics loved, All Things In Time had been a memorable Philadelphia International debut album from Lou. The question was, would Unmistakably Lou match its predecessors success?

Like all the Philadelphia International albums, Unmistakably Lou was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Recording of the album took place during 1976 and 1977 with M.F.S.B. Mk 2 backing Lou. Six of the nine songs on the album came from the Gamble and Huff partnership, who produced these six tracks, with Jack Faith, Bobby Martin and Dexter Wansel producing a track apiece, it seemed that Philadelphia International’s most creative minds were working on the album. This was the case when it came to the arrangers, with Jack Faith arranging six tracks and Bobby Martin three. Surely with such talented people working on Unmistakably Lou, the album couldn’t fail?

When Unmistakably Lou was released in May 1977, it was an album that didn’t disappoint, featuring some stunning music. Older soul fans wallowed in Lou’s balladry, his distinctive voice mellowing with age like a fine wine. The standout track wasn’t a ballad though, it was the uptempo gem See You When I Git There. When it was released as a single, reaching number sixty-six in the US Billboard 100 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. This was the only single released from Unmistakably Lou. The closing track on Unmistakably Lou was something very different, and saw Lou revisit one of Frank Sinatra’s classic tracks All the Way which Lou sang with a swing, complete with a big band arrangement. However, despite quality running through Unmistakably Lou from the opening bars to run out groove on side two, the album only reached a somewhat disappointing number forty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. After all, an album of such quality music deserved to do much better. What had gone wrong, was it the jazzy influence on Unmistakably Lou that put people off buying it? Whatever it was, Unmistakably Lou is undoubtedly a fine album, which I’ll now tell you about.

Unmistakably Lou opens with the first of the six Gamble and Huff penned and produced tracks, See You When I Git There, the only track released from the album. This is an uptempo track with a real feel-good sound, with an organ, drums and chiming guitars giving way to a husky spoken word introduction from Lou. After this, the track quickens up, a lovely lush sound string laden sound, combining with percussion, rasping horns, rhythm section and guitars. Lou’s vocal is full of love and emotion, with female backing vocalists accompanying him. His vocal about going home to the woman he loves in beautiful, especially when sung against Bobby Martin’s stunning arrangement. The lush strings, rhythm section and guitars combine beautifully with the keyboards, and occasional bursts of horns. When combined with Lou’s vocal and Gamble and Huff’s production, the result is the album’s best track.

Spring Again sees the Gamble and Huff partnership strike gold again, this time with Jack Faith’s mid-tempo string heavy arrangement. Lou’s vocal is strong and thoughtful, as he sings about the beauty of the coming of spring. This he does against an arrangement where slow sweeping strings provide a beautiful lush sound, while the rhythm section, chiming guitars and gentle rasping horns combine with a wailing Hammond organ. Occasional bursts of drama from the drums punctuate the arrangement, while backing vocalists augment Lou’s vocal, while this beautiful string laden arrangement gradually reveals itself, much like spring itself. 

It’s a mid-tempo arrangement with gentle chiming guitars, slow strings and a thoughtful rhythm section that opens Early Morning Love. They give way to Lou’s somewhat dramatic, slow vocal. The arrangement, like Lou’s vocal is spacious, as if this space has been left for dramatic effect. This works well, as does the use of the most beautiful strings, during this romantic ballad about early morning love. Here, Lou demonstrates how well he can deliver a ballad, his phrasing and timing just perfect, combining emotion, drama and passion brilliantly. Behind him, rasping horns punctuate the arrangement, while drums add drama and guitars chime and shimmer. His voice grows in strength and passion as the track develops. Adding to the emotion and drama of the track are the slow strings, which play such an important part in Jack Faith’s spacious and dramatic arrangement. However, it’s Lou that’s central to the track’s success, proving he’s truly a master of balladry with very few equals.

The tempo increases on Some Folks Will Never Learn, the fourth track written and produced by Gamble and Huff, again with Jack Faith arranging the track. A combination of rhythm section, sweeping, swirling strings, piano and backing vocalists open the track, before Lou’s vocal enters. It’s a hugely catchy, hook laden track with a really smooth sounding production, typical of Gamble and Huff classic style. While horns rasp, strings swirl and backing vocalists unite soulfully, Lou’s voice is deep and strong, as he brings the lyrics to life, warning how some people never learn about love, and destined to be disappointed and heartbroken. By now the arrangement is full, strings, female backing vocalists and the rhythm section all playing their part in this fantastic arrangement, with horns playing a minor, but still vital role. Together, they all combine brilliantly with Lou, on a track that would’ve made a great single. With such an excellent track, this seems a fitting way to end side one of Unmistakably Lou.

There’s a real change in style on the first track on side two of Unmistakably Lou, the jazz drenched Someday You’ll Be Old. Although Gamble and Huff wrote and produced the song, this isn’t typical of their production style. Lou delivers their lyrics against a swinging, big band arrangement from Bobby Martin. Here blazing horns, sweeping strings, standup bass and chiming guitars combine with the piano and drums. Together, they produce a really swinging jazzy sound that sounds quite brilliant, and allows Lou to demonstrate his talents as a jazz vocalist. Although the horns are central to the arrangement, there are important contributions from the piano, bass and drums. The drums combine with the horns to create dramatic bursts, that punctuate this swinging slice of jazz. Regardless of how great a track this is, maybe fans of Philadelphia International didn’t want to hear swinging, big band jazz arrangements, with Lou Rawls rolling back the years to his jazz tinged past. 

A solitary trumpet plays as Secret Tears reveals itself. Joining the trumpet are the rhythm section, guitars, harp and piano. When Lou’s thoughtful and considered vocal enters, the piano meanders, while horns gently rasp and strings sweep in sadly. They play an important role in this Jack Faith and Phillip Terry penned track, which is arranged and produced by Jack Faith. It has a really jazzy feel and sound when horns and strings unite powerfully, to give the track an emotive and dramatic sound. With Lou’s husky vocal slower, this suits the arrangement, which is sympathetic to his vocal style. However, again, as much as I love this style of music, maybe people used to the balladry of Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass and Lou’s debut album, would find this type of track very different, and not what they’d expect from an album released by Philadelphia International.

We Understand Each Other is the final song written and produced by Gamble and Huff on Unmistakably Lou. Like the previous track, it’s a really slow song, with a lovely arrangement from Jack Faith and equally stunning production from the maestros Gamble and Huff. The arrangement is slow, meandering as it reveals its beauty and drama. With female backing vocalists accompanying Lou’s heartfelt vocal, the rhythm section, lush sweeping strings and rasping horns combine with flourishes of piano as the track slowly, and gently reveals its hidden beauty as the track builds and builds.  Flourishes of harp, chiming guitars and punchy drums all play their part in the track, as horns and drums add drama. However, it’s the strings, rhythm section and piano that play leading roles in making this such a stunning track, while the subtle backing vocalists add to the track’s beauty and provide a contrast to Lou’s much stronger and dramatic vocal. 

Again, there’s a change of style on It’s Our Anniversary Today, a a jazz tinged track with a sad, lush sound. Strings play their part in creating this sound, while guitars chime, a piano plays and horns rasp. While Lou sings about the anniversary of the end of his relationship, asking how his children are, the band decide to take the track in a direction marked jazz. The rhythm section, horns and strings, combine with jazz guitars, to create a sound that’s both emotive, heartfelt and jazz tinged. With Jack Faith arranging the track, and Dexter Wansel producing they manage to produce a track that’s not as obviously jazzy as either Someday You’ll Be Old or Secret Tears. It’s a good enough track, but not as good as either of the two aforementioned tracks.

Unmistakably Lou closes with a swinging big band version of All the Way, made famous by Frank Sinatra. With horns blazing and and the rhythm section combining brilliantly to make the song go with a swing, this is much more like things. Lou delivers the lyrics in a swinging style, demonstrating just how talented a jazz vocalist he is. Later strings sweep in, and together with a standup bass, the track has a real authentic sound and feel. Never before, had M.F.S.B. been asked to provide a big band accompaniment, but like Lou they handled the song with aplomb, bringing the song to life and giving it a lovely old fashioned sound and feel. This seems a fitting way to end an album that sees a combination jazz and Philly Soul comfortably sit side by side.

Although Unmistakably Lou was a commercial success. it failed to match the huge success of its predecessor All Things In Time. Possibly the explanation lay in four tracks, where Lou’s jazzier side shawn through. This maybe wasn’t what fans of The Philly Sound expected to hear on a record on the Philadelphia International label. However, this was a great shame, as the music is of the highest standard. Of the album’s nine tracks, the six written by Gamble and Huff are the strongest, and even Someday You’ll Be Old is jazz tinged. Many of the other tracks are what you’d expect from Gamble and Huff, with the album’s opener See You When I Git There a stunning uptempo track. From there, Spring Again, Early Morning Love and Some Folks Will Never Learn, continue with the same quality of the opening track. On side two, things change, and the jazz influence shines through on Someday You’ll Be Old, Secret Tears and the big band sound of All the Way. Personally, it’s an album where one great track follows the previous one, but maybe my musical tastes are wider than most people. Other people may have more conservative or narrow tastes in music, but Unmistakably Lou was an album where Lou mixed the old with the new. The old was his jazz influence, the new The Philly Sound. Now thirty-five years after it was first issued, revisiting Unmistakably Lou is a pleasure. Maybe those who didn’t enjoy the album the first time around, will have seen their taste in music mature, and will decided to revisit this wonderful album again. if they do, it has been rereleased along with Lou’s previous album All Things In Time on one disc by Demon in 2005. So this allows you the privilege of hearing two great albums from one of the most versatile and talented vocalists of his generation, Lou Rawls. Standout Tracks: See You When I Git There, Spring Again, Early Morning Love and Someday You’ll Be Old.


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