THE SALSOUL STRINGS-HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE.

THE SALSOUL STRINGS-HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE.

Recently, I’ve been reviewing many of Salsoul Records’ releases, and during these reviews, explaining how Salsoul Records started to change around 1978. This change came about when several of Salsoul’s key personnel started to leave the label or play less of a role in the label’s releases. This started when Vince Montana Jr. left Salsoul in 1978, after a dispute with Salsoul’s owners the Cayres. By 1978, Norman Harris who ran Salsoul’s subsidiary Gold Mind Records, was playing less of a role at Salsoul. Instead, Tom Moulton and Thor Baldurrson were now apparently flavor of the month. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, with Vince having left Salsoul, and Norman playing a lesser role, this wasn’t the Cayre’s wisest decision. These two men had been a crucial part of the Salsoul success story and in some ways, this was history repeating itself. Three years earlier, many of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. left the label after a dispute with Gamble and Huff over payments. They then became The Salsoul Orchestra and would record twelve albums and accompany every Salsoul artist. One of the last albums to feature the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra was The Salsoul Strings’ only album How Deep Is Your Love, released in 1978. It was one of the last albums to feature Vince Montana Jr, and the greatest rhythm section of the seventies, Baker, Harris, Young. Before I tell you about the music on How Deep Is Your Love, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.

For How Deep Is Your Love, eight cover-versions were chosen for what would be The Salsoul Strings only album. The first side of How Deep Is Your Love featured covers of The Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love and More Than A Woman, Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are and Joe Brooks You Light Up My Life. Side Two featured Evergreen (Love Theme From “A Star Is Born”) Yours, Love Letters and a two-song medley of standards We’ve One Just Begun and Feelings. These eight tracks that would become How Deep Is Your Love were recorded at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, where so many Salsoul albums were recorded.

The lineup of The Salsoul Strings that played on How Deep Is Your Love at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios featured the legendary Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, with Vince Montana Jr, playing vibraharp, bells, chimes and tympani. They were accompanied by drummer Charles “77” Collins, bassists Michael “Sugarbear” Foreman and Gordon Edwards, with Bobby “Electronic” Eli, T.J. Tindall, Dennis Harris and Ronnie “The Hawk” James on guitar. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Clark “Cotton” Kent played keyboards,  Larry Washington congas, bongos and timbales while Jack Faith played flute and piccolo flute. Crusher Bennett and Ray Armando added percussion, while violinist Don Renaldo was part of a full string and horn section. The final piece of The Salsoul Strings’ jigsaw were the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram who added backing vocals. These musicians and backing vocalists featured on the eight tracks which made up How Deep Is Your Love which was arranged, conducted and produced by Vince Montana Jr. With How Deep Is Your Love completed, The Salsoul Strings debut album was set for release in 1978. Given it was quite different from The Salsoul Orchestra’s albums would The Salsoul Strings’ debut album How Deep Is Your Love be a commercial success?

On the release of The Salsoul Strings’ debut album How Deep Is Your Love it wasn’t a commercial success. Maybe the quite downtempo, laid-back and almost smooth jazz sound of the album was out of place in the disco market. Sadly, The Salsoul Strings’ How Deep Is Your Love is another example of quality music not equalling commercial success, as you’ll realise when I tell you about The Salsoul Strings’ How Deep Is Your Love.

The Salsoul Strings’ How Deep Is Your Love opens with with the first of two tracks written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, The Bee Gees and is a track from the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. This track sets the vibe for the album, with The Salsoul Strings slowing the track way down, with just the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, rasping horns, percussion and the lushest of strings combining before Vince Montana Jr, takes centre-stage. He plays a prolonged vibes solo that transforms the track, giving it a jazzy, Latin feel. While Vince vibes take centre-stage, everything else seamlessly fits into place. Ron Baker’s bass and a piano play important roles, while slow sweeping strings and gently rasping horns accompany Vince. With the vibes playing such an important part in the track, it’s almost a reinvention of a familiar song, one that’s innovative and benefits from a quite beautiful, wistful sound.

Billy Joel wrote Just The Way You Are and here, The Salsoul Strings breath new life and meaning into the track. Quivering, shivering strings and Ron Baker’s slow, thoughtful bass give way to Joseph Caltaldo’s heartfelt, beautiful flugelhorn solo as the track reveals its many secrets. Percussion, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and the lushest of strings combine as the arrangement flows along. Then T.J. Tindall lays down a guitar solo that’s almost a challenge to Joseph Caltaldo. He  returns with another flugelhorn solo, against a backdrop of emotive, dancing strings and braying horns. They combine with percussion and the rhythm section, before Vince Montana Jr, steals the show. When he adds a vibes solo, he trumps T.J. and Joseph. It’s as if anything they can do, Vince can do so much better. As he lays down that glorious vibes solo everyone else seems content to just to become Vince’s backing band, allowing him to take centre-stage. Mind you, Vince’s solo is just the finishing touch to what is a scrumptious, sumptuous musical cake. 

A standard like You Light Up My Life written by Joe Brooks isn’t the most obvious choice for The Salsoul Strings to cover, but they’ve the talent and imagination to make it work. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine to create the track’s slow, deliberate and thoughtful heartbeat, while percussion, keyboards and strings create an almost dramatic, grand backdrop. As the track progresses the emotion and beauty grow, with percussion, Vince Montana Jr,’s vibes and the lushest of strings uniting with rasping horns. As the track heads to its dramatic close, Vince Montana Jr, adds a piano solo that’s a mixture of drama and emotion. 

Side One of How Deep Is Your Love closes with a cover of The Bee Gees More Than A Woman and sees The Salsoul Strings kick loose. It’s a much more uptempo track and sees the introduction of the Sweethearts of Sigma, who add tender, impassioned harmonies. With the pounding Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combining with Cotton Kent’s piano solo and strings dance with delight as the band kick loose. As the Sweethearts of Sigma add tight, soulful harmonies, bursts of growling horns and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s sizzling guitar punctuate the arrangement. While they all play a vital role in the tracks sound and success, it’s omnipresent Cotton Kent’s piano playing that makes this one of the real highlights of How Deep Is Your Love.

Evergreen (Love Theme From “A Star Is Born”) opens Side Two of How Deep Is Your Love and sees The Salsoul Strings breath new life and meaning to the track. There’s a real understated Latin sound to the track. Just congas and bongos subtly combine, before Vince Montana Jr lays down a slow, spacious vibes solo. Then the Sweethearts of Sigma lay some of the most heartfelt, beautiful harmonies on How Deep Is Your Love. When Vince adds the lushest of slow strings this is a masterstroke. He then combines his vibes with percussion and congas and the Sweethearts of Sigma tender harmonies. This innovative and imaginative combination sees elements of jazz, Latin and soul resulting is an understated and subtle reworking of a familiar song that’s a mixture of beauty and elegance personified.

Strings sweep and swirl and horns growl and rasp as Yours sees The Salsoul Strings up the tempo. While the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section create a funky backdrop, Joseph Cataldo unleashes a blazing trumpet solo. As his solo drops out, the strings dance with delight, as horns rasp and a piano plays a supporting role. By now the band are kicking loose, with Norman Harris adding a jazz-tinged solo, while Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s add funky guitar. It’s when The Salsoul Strings unite that they take your breath away. Truly, in full flight, they’re a joy to behold capable of seamless combining jazz, funk and Latin music seamlessly, like they do hear and do with style, flair and panache.

After upping the tempo on the previous track, The Salsoul Strings return to a much more laid-back sound on Love Letters. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes are at the heart of the arrangement from the get-go. He combines with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section that create a shuffling rhythm, while emotive strings, percussion, bongos and congas combine. Vince’s vibes are ever-present and crucial to the track tugging at your heartstrings and emotions. There’s a real Latin sound and influence to the track, elements of jazz and lounge music can be heard. Although very different from the previous track, this track has one thing on common with much of How Deep Is Your Love, its beauty and emotive sound.

Closing The Salsoul Strings’ debut album How Deep Is Your Love are two standards We’ve Only Just Begun and Feelings. Not every band could take two standards and cross lounge music, with soul, funk and Latin music and create something as beautiful as this. However, not every band is as talented as The Salsoul Strings. The tempo’s slow, with the rhythm section, percussion and keyboards providing an understated backdrop for The Sweethearts of Sigma tender backing vocals. Lush strings accompany them, as Vince Montana Jr.’s vibes and percussion plays an important role in the track. Rasping horns join Vince as Feelings unfolds. His vibes, percussion, lush strings and The Sweethearts of Sigma are at the heart of the track. By now, The Salsoul Strings are transformed into a lounge band, but the greatest lounge band you’ll ever hear, capable of making some really stunning music.

Although The Salsoul Strings’ debut album How Deep Is Your Love is quite different to the music recorded by The Salsoul Orchestra, it allowed Salsoul’s musicians to demonstrate their versatility. Musicians like Ron Baker, Norman Harris, Earl Young, Vince Montana Jr, Jack Faith, Ron “Have Mersey” Kersey and Bobby “Electronic” Eli were seasoned, experienced musicians who were versatile and capable of flitting between musical genres. If they were asked to play big band music, disco, funk, jazz, Latin, lounge music or Philly Soul they were capable of doing so. Each musician had earner their dues, playing on numerous sessions, including for Gamble and Huff and Thom Bell. At Salsoul, The Salsoul Orchestra and here as The Salsoul Strings used their experience to create some of the greatest music of the disco era, classic music that’s timeless. On How Deep Is Your Love, The Salsoul Strings reinvented themselves, fusing elements of funk, jazz, Latin, lounge music and Philly Soul. Sometimes, the music is almost smooth jazz in sound. Indeed, tracks like this helped give birth to that much maligned musical genre. Other tracks see The Salsoul Strings turned into a lounge band, especially on tracks like Love Letters, We’ve Only Just Begun and Feelings. Given that How Deep Is Your Love wasn’t a commercial success, The Salsoul Strings never recorded another album. To me this is a pity, as The Salsoul Strings shows a different side to Salsoul’s musicians, and How Deep Is Your Love is something of a golden nugget waiting to be unearthed by Salsoul lovers. Sadly, 1978 saw a changing in the guard at Salsoul. Vince Montana Jr, left Salsoul in 1978, Norman Harris was playing less of a role at Salsoul and gradually the Salsoul’s legends went their own ways. Replacing them weren’t musicians, but the new flavor of the month, remixers including Tom Moulton and Larry Levan. Much as I enjoy anything from Salsoul, I prefer Salsoul’s music pre-1978, when Vince Montana Jr, Norman Harris and the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra were creating musical gold. At least everything they created that glittered was gold, not pinchbeck like some of the post-1978 music. One of the gold nuggets produced by the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra with Vince Montana Jr producing was The Salsoul Strings one and only album How Deep Is Your Love, a glittering goldern nugget from Salsoul’s back-catalogue that’s just waiting to be unearthed. Standout Tracks: More Than A Woman, Yours, Love Letters and We’ve Only Just Begun and Feelings.

THE SALSOUL STRINGS-HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE.

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