MELLOW MELLOW-15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.

MELLOW MELLOW-15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.

One of my favorite independent record labels over the past seventeen years is Harmless Records, who were founded in 1995. Since then, they’ve been releasing quality music on a regular basis. They’ve released a number of hugely successful compilation series including Pulp Fusion, Disco Discharge and of course thirty editions of the Backbeats series which. The music Harmless have released has been totally eclectic, with everything from soul and funk, to jazz and Philly Soul. Each of these releases have one thing in common, quality. Two of my many favorites of the Harmless compilations was the two Mellow Mellow compilations, released in March 2000 and August 2001. Both of these compilations featured some lovely laid music including tracks by Barry White, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Roy Ayers and Minnie Ripperton. So imagine my delight when in March 2011, as part of Harmless’ fifteenth anniversary, they released a two disc compilation of some beautiful chilled out soul music entitled Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition. On this compilation are thirty-five tracks from artists on Hi Records, Philadelphia International and Curtom Records. This includes tracks from Billy Paul, The O’Jays, The Chi-Lites, Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass. Truly, Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition is a compilation of some fantastic music, which I’ll now tell you about, by picking some of the album’s best tracks.

DISC ONE.

Disc One of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition has eighteen tracks, with a mixture of old favorites and some less well known tracks. These tracks are from a variety of labels, including Hi Records, Brunswick, Philadelphia International and Curtom Records. Of the eighteen tracks on Disc One of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition, there’s just so much good music that trying to choose just a few tracks is difficult. Unlike some compilations where you struggle to choose a few tracks to talk about, here you could literally pick any track. Dean Rudland the compiler has chosen wisely, mixing familiar songs with a few leftfield choices. So what are my favourite tracks from Disc One of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition?

My first choice is one of the most underrated soul singers of the seventies, Leroy Hutson and a track from his 1975 album Hutson, All Because of You. It’s a slow, beautiful track opening with drums, cascading strings and funky bass and chiming guitars before Leroy’s joyous vocal enters. Joining the mix are keyboards and percussion, who together with rasping horns and lush, shimmering strings create a beautiful backdrop for Leroy’s vocal. It’s a gorgeous track, written and produced by Leroy, who and demonstrates just how talented singer Leroy Hutson is.

Dee Dee Sharp Gamble recorded a trio of highly underrated albums on Philadelphia International Records. On her 1977 album What Color Is Love, was a track Just As Long As I Know You’re Mine, which is one of the finest tracks Dee Dee ever recorded. The track has an upbeat, uptempo style, with keyboards, rhythm section, percussion and guitars combining before a louder, but slightly husky sounding vocal from Dee Dee begins. Quickly, a really catchy, arrangement combines elements of soul and funk. A myriad of keyboards, quick funky bass line, shimmery guitars combine, while braying horns and bouncy drums inject drama. Like the arrangement, Dee Dee’s vocal gets stronger and funkier. She delivers the vocal with a mixture of power and raw emotion. Dramatic waves of driving, powerful music, accompany Dee Dee’s vocal, matching her passion and energy every step of the way. It’s a  dynamic, driving combination of soul and funk that remains a well kept secret to all but soul connoisseurs and the music cognoscenti.

Having mentioned on of Philadelphia International’s biggest acts, it seems fitting to follow this with Hi Records’ most successful artist Al Green. Here, Call Me (Come Back Home) is chosen, which is a nice change to the usual familiar tracks from Al that feature on other lesser compilations. Released on Al’s 1973 album Call Me, which reached number one in the US R&B Charts and number ten in the US Billboard 200, the album was certified gold. On the release of Call Me (Come Back Home) as a single, it reached number ten in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. With the Memphis Horns and Memphis Strings combining with backing vocalists and the legendary Hi Rhythm Section, three minutes of sensuous soul unfolds, with Al’s voice tender and full of longing. Backing vocalists accompany him, his voice full of sadness and desire, while stabs of Hammond organ add to the atmospheric and beautiful arrangement. Combined with Willie Mitchell’s production, this is a slice of vintage Southern Soul from Al Green.

The Jones Girls contribute This Feeling’s Killing Me from their self-titled debut album The Jones Girls, released in 1979 on Philadelphia International Records. Again, compiler Dean Rudland has eschewed the obvious choice, Nights Over Egypt, delving deeper into The Jones Girls back catalogue. It’s a slow song with chiming guitars and rhythm section opening the track, before a beautiful, thoughtful vocal from Shirley.  Meanwhile Brenda and Valerie sing tight and equally beautiful harmonies. Later, bursts of horns punctuate the arrangement, while lush strings sweep in and out of the track, augmented by punchy drums. Although the arrangement is excellent, as you’d expect on a Philadelphia International track, it’s The Jones Girls’ soulful vocals that steal the show.

While groups like The O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were producing some of the finest Philly Soul, in Chicago on Brunswick Records The Chi-Lites were producing a similar combination of socially conscious music and love songs. Oh Girl was released in 1972 and was number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. It was taken from The Chi-Lites album A Lonely Man which reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. It features an atmospheric harmonica solo, while Eugene Record’s heartfelt vocal is accompanied by lush strings, piano and tight harmonies. Scared that his girlfriend will leave him, Eugene delivers a gorgeous, heartfelt, paean of adoration to the one he loves. It’s a track that reminds me just how great a group The Chi-Lites were during the seventies.

The last track I’ve chosen to mention is Eugene Wilde’s Gotta Get You Home With Me Tonight, from his 1984 album Eugene Wilde. His voice reminds me slightly of Lionel Ritchie, with the arrangement full of synths, a loping bass and lush strings, while Eugene’s vocal is sensuousness personified. This track is very different to other tracks on Disc One of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition, with a slightly more eighties electronic sound. However, it’s the vocal that really makes the track, with Eugene’s emotive and impassioned delivery.

Although I’ve only chosen six of the eighteen tracks on Disc One of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition, I could just as easily have mentioned Holland and Dozier’s Why Can’t We Be Lovers, Phyllis Hyman’s Ain’t You Had Enough Love or Dee Dee Sharp Gamble’s stunning Just As Long As I Know Your Mine, one of Dee Dee’s finest tracks, a track that demonstrates how talented a vocalist she is. Tracks like these demonstrate the consistency and quality of music on Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition. That Dean Rudland has compiled such a consistently high quality selection of music demonstrates his impeccable taste. However, can Disc Two of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition keep up the consistency and quality?

DISC TWO.

One of the most familiar tracks on Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition, is The O’Jays’ Use Ta Be My Girl, from their 1978 album So Full of Love, which reached number six in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. On Use Ta Be My Girl’s release as a single, it reached number four in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts, resulting in the album being certified platinum. With its chiming guitars, quivering strings, rhythm section and percussion opening the track, the lead vocal enters, while the other O’Jays sing harmonies. This they do against a backdrop of swirling strings, punchy drums that combine to produce an arrangement that mixes beauty, drama and a lovely lush sound. It’s a track that’s a true classic, from one of Philadelphia International Records most successful groups

After leaving Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass launched a highly successful solo career. Heaven Only Knows was the title track from Teddy’s 1983 album, which was his final and least successful album on Philadelphia International Records. It only reached number 123 in the US Billboard 200 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Although it’s a quality slice of soul with a disco influence, it’s an unusual choice of track from Dean Rudland. Again, he’s avoided more obvious tracks and included a track with pounding drums, chiming guitars, flourishes of harp and quivering strings, which accompany Teddy’s sultry vocal. Backing vocalists accompany Teddy, as he delivers the lyrics with emotion and power, against a trademark quality Philly Sound arrangement. 

My favorite track on Disc Two of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition is Billy Paul’s paean to seduction, on the bedroom ballad Let’s Make A Baby. It’s a track that should carry a government health warning, prolonged listening to this track can turn two into three. From Billy’s When Love Is New album, it features one of the best arrangements on this compilation. With a slow, lush backdrop of strings, chiming guitars and subtle backing vocalists, Billy Paul does what he does so well, sing about love. Like Teddy Pendergrass and Barry White, he’s a master of the bedroom ballad, with this track just one of his finest ever tracks.

Back in the seventies, Earth, Wind and Fire were one of the biggest soul and funk bands, consistently producing quality music. One of these tracks was Devotion, which reached number thirty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. Taken from their 1974 album Open Our Eyes, which reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. The track is very different from singles like Boogie Wonderland and September, with a slower tempo and gentle vocal from Maurice White. With keyboards, guitars and rhythm section accompanying him, Maurice delivers a thoughtful and tender vocal, while the rest of the group combine to sing lovely backing vocals. This track demonstrates a very different and beautiful side to Earth, Wind and Fire, one many people may not have discovered, but should do.

The last track I’ve decided to review is George Jackson’s Aretha, Sing One For Me. George is a talented Southern Soul singer, songwriter and producer whose music deserves to be heard by a much wider audience. Released as a single in 1972, Aretha, Sing One For Me is a song about a relationship breaking up. It features an emotive and impassioned vocal from George, accompanied by gospel tinged backing vocalists, a tight rhythm section and blazing horns. This is a emotive slice of authentic Southern Soul, one that demonstrates just how talented a singer George Jackson was.

Having wondered whether Disc Two of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition would match the consistency and quality of Disc One, I needn’t have worried. I’ve only mentioned five of seventeen slices of soul, without mentioning tracks by Jean Carn, Millie Jackson and Isaac Hayes, Ann Peebles and Gary Bartz. Truly, Disc Two matches the quality of music on Disc One of Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition, and if anything, has a more eclectic selection of music. Dean Rudland, the compiler has chosen to include less obvious tracks, including tracks by Anthony White, Jean Plum and Paris. To me, Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition is a compilation crammed full of quality, mellow soul music, with bedroom ballads and Philly Soul comfortable bedfellows. So, if you like soul music, with the plenty of laid back Philly Soul, Southern Soul and a few hidden gems then you should buy Mellow Mellow-15th Anniversary Edition. It’s an example of what a compilation should sound like, unpretentious, with the emphasis on good quality music. That’s why Harmless Records are now seventeen years old, they know what people want to hear, good quality music. Standout Tracks: Dee Dee Sharp Gamble Just As Long As I Know You’re Mine, Al Green Call Me (Come Back Home), Billy Paul Let’s Make A Baby and George Jackson Aretha Sing One For Me.

MELLOW MELLOW-15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.

 

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