Given Salsoul Records is disco’s premier label and was responsible for some of the most innovative and influential music of the disco era, you’d expect there to be many more compilations available than there are. Granted there have been a number of compilations released over the past few years, but recently, things have quietened down. What I’ve discovered is that when Salsoul compilations are released, it’s often the same tracks that appear on the compilations. That’s quite disappointing, given how extensive Salsoul’s back-catalogue is. Indeed, there’s more than enough for a box set, ideally one similar to Harmless Records lovingly compiled Philadelphia International Records 40th Anniversary Collection. That would be a fitting homage to what is the most important, innovative and influential back-catalogues not just in the history of disco, but modern dance music. The best Salsoul compilation I’ve encountered was Harmless Records’ The Definitive Salsoul Mixes, a three-disc box set. For me, that set the standard against all future Salsoul compilations should be compared. Essentially, The Definitive Salsoul Mixes is the King of Salsoul compilations, with every new Salsoul compilation a contender for their crown. The latest contender is The Salsoul Records Story, which was released by Gold Legion Records on 26th February 2013.

The Salsoul Records Story is a ten-track compilation featuring some of the biggest names in the history of Salsoul Records. This includes the undisputed Queen of Disco Loleatta Holloway, First Choice and the greatest disco orchestra, The Salsoul Orchestra. There’s also contributions from Candido, Carol Williams, Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, Metropolis, Gary Criss and Bunny Sigler. Included in the eight-page sleeve-notes is a forward written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli, who was guitarist in both M.F.S.B. and The Salsoul Orchestra. Will The Salsoul Records Story come close to wrestling The Definitive Salsoul Mixes’ crown as the definitive Salsoul compilation.

Opening The Salsoul Records Story is Runaway, by The Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway. Released as a single in June 1977, this version can be found on The Salsoul Orchestra’s 1977 album Magic Journey. It provides the perfect showcase for a true disco diva Loleatta Holloway. A combination of some of the most talented musicians of the era, Vince Montana’s production skills and a true diva are at the heart of the track’s success. Opening with that unmistakable introduction, where the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine, the introduction blossoms. Rasping horns, swirling strings and percussion accompany Loleatta. Her vocal is confident, defiant and powerful, while drums punctate the arrangement and lush strings cascade. The arrangement sweeps along. A potent combination of dramatic horns and drums, is contrasted by percussion, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and strings. What makes the track is Loleatta’s vocal, as the confidently and defiantly vamps her way through a genuine and timeless disco classic.

By the time First Choice signed to Norman Harris’ Gold Mind Records, they’d already released three albums. They’d release three more albums on Gold Mind, including 1977s Delusions, which features Dr. Love, which was arranged and produced by Norman Harris. The version included on The Salsoul Records Story is a previously unreleased eight minute epic. With a combination of a pounding Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combining with blazing horns, cascading strings and a sizzling guitar the track bursts into life. A flourish of keyboards gives way to Rochelle’s vocal. It’s perfect for the arrangement, with its mixture of power, passion and confidence. Behind Rochelle, the rest of the group contribute soulful, soaring harmonies. All the time, Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drums anchor the track, each matching the other note for note. By now, Rochelle is overflowing with confidence. Her vocal is a powerful sassy, vamp with Annette and Joyce responding to her call. Strings quiver and shiver, horns growl, Norman Harris adds a jazzy guitar solo and The Salsoul Orchestra are in full flight. Together with First Choice and Rochelle’s vocal tour de force which is a mixture of power, passion and emotion. Add in Norman Harris’ stunning arrangement and the result is a hook-laden disco classic.

Gary Criss’ Rio De Janeiro is one of the more leftfield choices on The Salsoul Records Story. It’s the title-track from Gary’s only album for Salsoul, released in 1978. Arranged and produced by John Davis, the standout track on this Latin-tinged disco album was Rio De Janeiro. Along with tracks like Amazon Queen and My Rio Lady, Rio De Janeiro was one of the most compelling and intriguing albums Salsoul released during 1978. It’s something of a hidden gem and Rio De Janeiro’s inclusion here can only be welcomed.

Like Gary Criss, Metropolis only released one album on Salsoul, 1978s The Greatest Show On Earth. Produced by Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson, The Greatest Show On Earth featured unmistakable sound of The Sweethearts of Sigma. Billed as The Sweethearts, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Evette Benton’s harmonies were the perfect foil for the Euro Disco arrangements and like Rio De Janeiro, is one of the most underrated albums Salsoul released. The best track on The Greatest Show On Earth was the uplifting, joyful and irresistible single, I Love New York.

In 1978, Charo released her debut album Cuchi Cuchi on Salsoul. Billed as Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, it featured what became her best known track Dance A Little Bit Closer, which became a sensuous Salsoul classic. A pounding Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, keyboards, lush strings and growling horns signal the arrival of Charo’s breathy vocal. She’s accompanied by blazing horns, vibes and swathes of lush strings that glide elegantly into the arrangement. Earl Young’s drums provide the track’s heartbeat, while backing vocalists accompany Charo. Later, her vocal becomes much more flamboyant, as disco and Latin music are fused seamlessly. By the end of this irresistible track, you realize a little Charo will brighten up your life.

Carol Williams is another artist who only released one album on Salsoul. However, if you’re only going to release one album for disco’s greatest labels, make it one as good as 1977s ‘Lectric Lady. One of the singles was Love Is You, released in March 1977. For far too long, it was an underrated and overlooked track. Thankfully, Carol’s track has come back into “fashion,” and is one of the hidden gems in the Salsoul back-catalogue. Produced and co-written by Vince Montana Jr., who fuses the sweetest, joyful vocal with a stunning arrangement. This results in five minutes of majestic, magical music. When the track opens, it’s just Earl Young’s drums that you hear, before literally, the track explodes into life. Suddenly, you’re greeted by sweet, cascading strings, blazing horns, percussion and the rhythm section. They give way to Carol’s sweet, beautiful vocal. She’s accompanied by a backdrop of quivering strings, flourishes of guitars and bursts of horns as the track reveals its irresistible sound. Later, Vince adds just the finishing touch to the track with his vibes, playing a lengthy and glorious solo. This is just the perfect way to close this gorgeous track, one with a hook-laden, feel-good sound.

Before signing to Salsoul, Bunny Sigler released a trio of albums for Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Sadly, they weren’t commercially successful. Next stop for Bunny was Norman Harris’ Gold Mild Records, which was a subsidiary of Salsoul. Bunny was a member of The Salsoul Orchestra and worked as a songwriter, arranger and producer. Between 1977 and 1980, he released three albums, Let me Party With You in 1977 and 1979s I’ve Always Wanted To Sing…Not Just Write Songs. His third album Let It Snow, released in 1980, was released on Salsoul, after Gold Mind’s demise. One of his best singles was By The Way I Dance (I Knew It Was You) from 1979s I’ve Always Wanted To Sing…Not Just Write Songs. With a myriad of percussion, synths and soaring, dramatic harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma disco, boogie, funk and Philly Soul unite. The result is a nine-minute dramatic epic which showed the direction disco was heading after disco’s untimely demise.

There aren’t many artists who released albums on Blue Note and Salsoul. One man did… the Cuban percussive maestro Candido. Twenty-three years after releasing his debut album Candido released two albums for Salsoul in 1979, These were Candi’s Funk and Dancin’ and Prancin.’ Of the two albums, Dancin’ and Prancin’ is the highlight of Candido’s short time at Salsoul. One of his most memorable moments was Jingo, an enthralling eleven-minute percussive masterclass from the Cuban maestro. After listening to Dancin’ and Prancin,’ you’ll want to know much more about one of the finest percussionists of his generation.

Chicago Bus Stop (Ooh I Love It) was a track from The Salsoul Orchestra’s 1976 debut album The Salsoul Orchestra. It has an irresistibly, joyous and uplifting sound. This track features the Sweethearts of Sigma adding breathy, sassy vocals. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section lock into a funky groove, while keyboards, guitars and percussion are joined by sassy, sensual vocals from the Sweethearts of Sigma. A sultry alto saxophone enters, as strings, sweep and swirl as the breathy vocal drifts in and out. Dramatic stabs of growling horns accompany the saxophone, and the rhythm section never miss a beat. They’re responsible for the mesmeric, almost hypnotic backdrop, while flourishes of woodwind and a myriad of percussion give the arrangement a Latin flavor. Here, funk meets disco with a twist of Latin flavor and Philly Soul added for good measure, as only The Salsoul Orchestra could, that is with style, flair and a flourish.

Closing The Salsoul Records Story is Loleatta Holloway’s Dreamin.’ This was a track from her 1976 album Loleatta, which was released on Gold Mind Records. It’ one of four tracks Norman Harris cowrote with Ron Tyson and Allan Felder. Norman arranged and produced the track, while Loleatta gives one of the best performances of her career. Larry Washington’s congas give way to grand strings that sweep and swirl, before the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, guitars and blazing horns. Loleatta struts centre-stage, her vocal sassy and fiery. She combines controlled power and confidence, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add sweet, soaring backing vocals. With the pounding rhythm section, punchy blazing horns and dancing strings accompanying Loleatta she gives one of sassiest, feistiest performances, settling into the role of disco diva as if born for the roll. Little did she’d given “The Greatest Performance Of My Life.”

For anyone looking for an introduction to Salsoul Records, then The Salsoul Records Story provides a starting point. It features familiar tracks, leftfield choices and unreleased tracks. Familiar tracks include The Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway’s Runaway, Carol Williams’ Love Is You, Charo’s Dance A Little Closer and Loleatta Holloway’s Dreamin.’ Leftfield choices includes Gary Criss Rio De Janeiro and Metropolis’ I Love New York. To me, they’re welcome additions to any Salsoul compilation. So too is the previously unreleased version of First Choice’s Dr. Love and Candido’s eleven-minute percussive epic Jingo. Overall, The Salsoul Records Story is a good Salsoul compilation. It’s not however, a definitive Salsoul compilation. However, it would’ve worked even better if it had been a double or triple album. This would’ve allowed the compiler to dig deeper and include a much wider variety of tracks. As it is, The Salsoul Records Story comes across as a tantalizing taste of what might have been. While it’s a good compilation, it’s not as good as Harmless Records’ The Definitive Salsoul Mixes. The Definitive Salsoul Mixes set the standard for other Salsoul compilations. Sadly, The Salsoul Records Story doesn’t come close to stealing its crown. If The Salsoul Records Story had been a much more comprehensive and in-depth compilation, then maybe The Definitive Salsoul Mixes might have lost its crown. As it is, The Salsoul Records Story is still the King of Salsoul compilations and The Salsoul Records Story just another contender. Standout Tracks: The Salsoul Orchestra featuring Loleatta Holloway’s Runaway, Carol Williams’ Love Is You, Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra Dance A Little Closer and Loleatta Holloway’s Dreamin.’


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