DEXTER WANSEL-TIME IS SLIPPING AWAY.
DEXTER WANSEL-TIME IS SLIPPING AWAY.
Mention the name Dexter Wansel, and many people think of the music herwrote, arranged and produced for artists on Philadelphia International Records. The artists that Dexter worked with during his time at Philadelphia International Records reads like a who’s who of Philly Soul. Teddy Pendergrass, The Jacksons, Lou Rawls, The O’Jays, The Jones Girls, Jean Carn and Archile Bell and The Drells all benefited from either Dexter’s songwriting, arranging or production skills. However, what people forget is that Dexter is also a hugely talented keyboard player, who released four groundbreaking albums for Philadelphia International Records between 1976 and 1979. His debut album was1976s Life On Mars, which wasn’t just a truly innovative album, but one that inspired and influenced a new generation of producers. It reached number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. A year later, in 1977, came the release of What the World Is Coming To, which reached number 168 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. Next was Dexter’s most ambition and successful album Voyager, released in 1978. Voyager reached number 137 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-seven in the US R&B Charts. On Voyager, Dexter fused jazz-rock, soul and funk, resulting in a quite un-Philly sounding album. For his final album for Philadelphia International, 1979s Time Is Slipping Away, Dexter returned to the fold, with an album that had much more of a Philly Sound. Although Time Is Slipping Away proved to Dexter’s final album for Philadelphia International, was he leaving with a bang or a whimper?
Although Dexter’s previous album Voyager had been his most successful solo album, he decided to change his sound again. Gone was the jazz-rock and funk of Voyager in was a much more Philly sounding album. For Time Is Slipping Away, Dexter made a number of changes. Instead of using the Planets who accompanied him on Voyager, Dexter decided to use M.F.S.B. Mk II, Philadelphia International’s house band. After the original M.F.S.B. left the label to become the Salsoul Orchestra, a second incarnation of M.F.S.B. became the label’s house band. It would be them that accompanied Dexter when he recorded Time Is Slipping Away at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.
For Time Is Slipping Away, Dexter and his longtime songwriting partner Cynthia Biggs came up with three tracks, while Dexter wrote three tracks and one with Steve Green. The other track New Beginning was written by Herb Smith, M.F.S.B. guitarist who played guitar and sang the vocal on the track. Terry Wells who was still an up and coming singer, would sing lead vocal on The Sweetest Pain. Adding backing vocals wereThe Jones Girls, who were very much Dexter and Cynthia’s proteges.
Recording would take place at Sigma Sound Studios, with M.F.S.B. Mk II accompanying Dexter. M.F.S.B. Mk II were joined by the unmistakable sound of Don Renaldo’s strings and horns and The Sweethearts of Sigma, a.k.a Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton and Carla Benson on three tracks. Along with The Jones Girls and Terry Wells the eight tracks were recorded. Dexter produced Time Is Slipping Away and arranged two tracks, while Jack Faith arranged the other six. With Time Is Slipping Away recorded, the question on everyone’s lips is would it match the success of Voyager?
On the release of Time Is Slipping Away in 1979, the album reached number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. Two singles were released from the album, with It’s Been Cool reaching number ninety-one in the US R&B Charts. The Sweetest Pain which Dexter and Cynthia Biggs cowrote, fared much better, reaching number forty in the US R&B Charts. However, although The Sweetest Pain had proved popular and successful, and Time Is Slipping Away had reached forty-four in the US R&B Charts, this hadn’t built on, or even matched the success of Voyager. Why was that? That’s what I’ll tell after I’ve told you about the music on Time Is Slipping Away.
Time Is Slipping Away opens with I’ll Never Forget (My Favorite Disco) which has a real Chic-inspired sound. Dexter combines disco strings with jazz-funk and Chic styled vocals. Using the lushest of strings, a rhythm section that combines a pounding beat with a funky bass line, the stage is set for the vocal. The Jones Girls are transformed into something you’d expect to hear on a Chic track. Their vocals are sultry and seductive, with Shirley singing lead and Brenda and Valerie answering her call. Handclaps, blazing horns and a pounding disco beat accompany them. While the track is mostly out and out disco, sometimes Dexter takes a brief diversion into jazz-funk. However, mostly Dexter focus is on creating a peerless disco track, which he succeeds in doing, with a little inspiration from Chic.
The second single released from Time Is Slipping Away is The Sweetest Pain. This Dexter and Cynthia Biggs penned track would later be covered by English group Loose Ends. Gentle and melodic keyboards reverberate, before the rhythm section and percussion provide a pounding, but thoughtful backdrop. Stabs of keyboard, subtle shakers, jazz-tinged guitars and lush strings signal the arrival of Terri Wells’ impassioned vocal. She’s accompanied by The Jones Girls, who add tight, soaring and soulful backing vocals. Their voices compliment Terri’s, while flourishes of Don Renaldo’s strings sweep and swirl. Later, Don’s horns rasp as the arrangement grows, with M.F.S.B. Mk II producing a pounding backdrop for the vocal. When the cascading strings, backing vocals from The Jones Girls and Terri’s vocal are added to this, the result is not just the best track on the album, but a hidden gem from Philadelphia International’s back-catalogue.
Funk Attack is a fitting description of a track that has Dexter Wansel’s name written all over it, given his previous albums. It’s quite unlike the previous two tracks, with synths and keyboards playing a bigger part in the track. M.F.S.B. Mk II provide a funky beat, while guitars maraud across the arrangement. Backing vocalists and handclaps are almost ever-present, playing their part in the somewhat artificial, feel-good sound. The track’s only saving grace is its hypnotically catchy sound.
Time Is Slipping Away is another of the Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs penned tracks. Just the piano, wistful horns and percussion accompany Dexter’s melancholy, emotive vocal. Jack Faith adds layers of strings to reflect the emotion in Dexter’s vocal. This works well, as does the crystalline guitar solo and wistful, pensive horns. They prove hugely effective, as do the flourishes of harp that close the track, adding to the track’s melancholy and beautiful sound.
It’s Been Cool which opens side two of Time Is Slipping Away, is a hard, driving slice of funk, augmented by the soulful strains of The Jones Girls. Keyboards, rhythm section and guitars drive the track along. Dexter’s vocal is gentle, but quickly grows in power. When The Jones Girls add backing vocals they really lift the song. Their backing vocals play an important part in the track. So do Don Renando’s blazing horns, Dexter’s keyboards and some sizzling guitar solos. Add in the pounding beat and like the title says It’s Been Cool.
Let Me Rock You like the rest of the second side of Time Is Slipping Away is arranged by Jack Faith, one of Philadelphia International’s best arrangers. This track shows just how good an arranger Jack was. The track is arranged for the dance-floor, combining a pounding beat with swirling, sweeping disco strings and The Jones Girls vocals. Shirley’s vocal is breathy, accompanied by Brenda and Valerie. They’re swept along by the strings, while percussion, handclaps and blazing horns add the finishing touches to the track. So good is this hook-laden track, that resistance is impossible, you’ll be totally smitten by its quality and beauty.
When you hear Herb Smith’s vocal on New Beginning he sounds not unlike Jon Lucien. Again, Jack Faith’s arrangement is perfect for the track. Backing vocalists, lush, floating strings, percussion and jazz-tinged guitars accompany Herb’s vocal. It has a dreamy, sometimes spiritual quality. He’s accompanied by The Jones Girls, who add subtle backing vocals. Later, Herb lays down jazzy guitar solo that’s one of the best on the album, while Dexter on keyboards accompanies him. The result is a beautiful track where Philly Soul, disco and jazz seamlessly unite.
Closing Time Is Slipping Away is One For The Road, which has a real jazz-funk sound. Dexter’s keyboards combine with M.F.S.B’s rhythm section before a stunning blazing horn solo steals the show. Once it drops out, Dexter’s keyboards and the rhythm section combine to drive the track along. During the track there’s always space left, allowing the track to breath. Sometimes, the sound is becomes more rock-funk than jazz-funk. When the track returns to its previous jazz-funk jam, that’s when the track is at its best, demonstrating just how talented and versatile musicians the Dexter and his band were.
Although Dexter Wansel’s Time Is Slipping Away didn’t match the success of his previous album Voyager, the music was much more like you’d expect from an album baring the Philadelphia International Records’ label. Gone was the rock-funk of Voyager to be replaced by an album that contained Philly Soul, disco, jazz, funk and a defiant diversion back into jazz-funk with One For The Road, which closes the album. The best tracks on the album either feature Terri Wells or The Jones Girls. This includes the Chic-inspired I’ll Never Forget (My Favorite Disco), the Dexter and Cynthia Biggs’ penned The Sweetest Pain, which features an impassioned vocal from Terri Wells. Time Is Slipping Away which was also written by Dexter and Cynthia, sees Dexter deliver the lead vocal, and delivering his best vocal, one that’s melancholy and pensive. Then there’s Let Me Rock You, which features The Jones Girls and is blessed with one of Jack Faith’s best arrangements on the album. Herb Smith wrote, sang and played the guitar on New Beginning, demonstrating his talents as a songwriter, singer and guitarist. The only track on Time Is Slipping Away I don’t like is Funk Attack with its pseudo good-time sound, full of false bonhomie. Having said that, it’s not a bad song, just one I don’t like. Overall, Time Is Slipping Away is an album where many of Philadelphia International’s artists, musicians, arrangers and songwriters play their part in what’s a fitting farewell to Philadelphia International Records. After Time Is Slipping Away didn’t build on the relative success of Voyager, Dexter Wansel became disheartened, deciding that for the time being, he stick to writing, arranging and producing other artist’s music. After Time Is Slipping Away, Dexter Wansel released just two albums, 1986s Captured and 2004s Digital Groove. However, throughout his career, Dexter was an innovator, pushing the musical boundaries as alums like Life On Mars, Voyager and Time Is Slipping Away demonstrate. Standout Tracks: I’ll Never Forget (My Favorite Disco), The Sweetest Pain, Let Me Rock You and New Beginning.
DEXTER WANSEL-TIME IS SLIPPING AWAY.