Regular readers of this blog will have realized that two of my favorite labels are Philadelphia International Records and Salsoul Records. To me, both labels represent everything that’s good about music. This is real music, music played my real musicians, music that’s soulful and timeless. There isn’t a sampler, sequencer or drum machine in sight. Philadelphia International and Salsoul featured some of most talented, innovative and creative musical minds. A common thread that runs through both labels’ success, and that’s musicians who played on releases by Philadelphia International and Salsoul. Without these musicians, neither label would’ve been as successful.

At Philadelphia International, the musicians that featured on albums by Billy Paul, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and The Three Degrees were M.F.S.B. From the label’s first release, Billy Paul’s 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, M.F.S.B. were key to Gamble and Huff’s sound and success. Then when members of M.F.S.B. and Gamble and Huff were locked in a dispute about finances, M.F.S.B. headed to New York and became The Salsoul Orchestra. This meant musical geniuses like the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr, and Don Renaldo’s Swinging Strings and Horns left Philadelphia International. These weren’t just musicians though, they were songwriters, arrangers, producers and people who could spot real talent, talent that would end up on Salsoul. Having signed to Salsoul in 1975, The Salsoul Orchestra released The Salsoul Orchestra in 1975. A year later, came  Nice ‘N’ Nasty, which was recently released by BBR Records. Before I tell you about the music on Nice ‘N’ Nasty, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.

Nice ‘N’ Nasty was the first of two albums The Salsoul Orchestra would release within two months of 1976. After releasing Nice ‘N’ Nasty in October 1976, Christmas Jollies was released in November 1976. So, 1976 was a busy year for The Salsoul Orchestra. For their second album, ten songs were written, with Vince Montana Jr. writing five tracks, co-writing Standing and Waiting On Love with Floyd Smith and adapted Salsoul 3001. Ron Baker of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, wrote the other new song, It Don’t Have To Be Funky (To Have A Groove). Along with a suite of two standards We’ve Only Just Begun and Feelings, which The Salsoul Orchestra would transform, the material was in place for Nice ‘N’ Nasty. Now the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra would head to Philly’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios to record Nice ‘N’ Nasty.

This classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra featured some of the greatest musicians of the seventies. All the greats played on the album. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section were joined by guitarists Bobby “electronic” Eli and T.J. Tindall.  Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Carlton “Cotton” Kent played keyboards, while Vince Montana Jr, played tympany, percussion and vibes. Larry Washington and Carlos Martib added percussion and Jack Faith played flute and piccolo. Violinist Don Renaldo was part of the string section and horn section that was key to the Salsoul sound. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton, along with Ronnie Tyson, Phil Hurtt and Carl Helms. With Vince Montana Jr. producing the hugely talented Salsoul Orchestra, Nice ‘N’ Nasty would be released in October 1976. Surely, Nice ‘N’ Nasty would be a huge hit?

On the release of Nice ‘N’ Nasty in September 1976, it reached number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. The title-track Nice ‘N’ Nasty was the lead single. Released in October 1976, it reached number thirty in the US Billboard 100, number twenty in the US R&B Charts, number eight in the Disco Charts and number three in the Dance Music-Club Play Charts. Ritzy Mambo was then released as a single in January 1977.  It reached number ninety-nine in the US Billboard 100. Nice ‘N’ Nasty had been a huge success. Given how good the music on Nice ‘N’ Nasty which I’ll tell you about, is that’s no surprise.

Opening The Salsoul Orchestra’s second album Nice ‘N’ Nasty is It’s Good For the Soul. From the get-go, a pounding rhythm section, chiming guitars, lush shimmering strings and cascading woodwind combine. The track floats along, while the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section produce a pounding heartbeat. Guitars and sweeping, swirling strings give way to punchy, sassy vocals and growling horns. Bursts of frenzied percussion, are just the latest curveball thrown by producer Vince Montana J,. Later, Norman Harris lays down a peerless, jazz-tinged guitar solo, as swathes of lush strings float elegantly above him. It’s the perfect way to start Nice ‘N’ Nasty, with The Salsoul Orchestras demonstrating their considerable talents, proving that while this track, It’s Good For the Soul, it’s perfect for any dance-floor, even thirty-six years later.

Nice ‘N’ Nasty was written, arranged, conducted and produced by Vince Montana. Pounding drums and hissing hi-hats give way to a sizzling guitars, before horns blaze, strings swirl and breathy female vocals enter. From there, you’re swept away, atop lush strings, while horns serenade you. Later, Norman Harris lays down a peerless guitar solo. A proliferation of percussion, backing vocalists, punchy horns and dancing, shimmering strings are key to the track’s success and its joyful, uplifting sound.

Bassist Ron Baker, of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section wrote  It Don’t Have To Be Funky (To Be A Groove). A driving rhythm section, guitars, swathes of swirling, sweeping strings and the soulful sound of The Sweethearts of Sigma open the track. As strings dance, blazing horns accompany them. Earl Young’s drums pound, while Norman Baker guitar chimes and The Sweethearts of Sigma add soulful, dramatic harmonies. You realise you’re hearing some of the greatest musicians at the top of their game, fusing soul, funk and disco seamlessly and peerlessly, and creating one of the Salsoul Orchestra’s greatest ever uptempo tracks.

Congas, woodwind, percussion and grand strings open Nightcrawler, one of the slower tracks on Nice ‘N’ Nasty. There’s a very different sound to the track, but still the glorious rhythms are present. Keyboards, vibes and percussion combine while strings sweep and woodwind cascade. By now there’s an almost grandiose sound, with The Salsoul Orchestra exploring elements of classical and Latin music, adding it to their usual fusion of styles. Other members of the group get a chance to shine, especially the woodwind section, including flautist and piccolo player Jack Faith. Along with percussionists Larry Washington, Carlos Martib and Vince Montana Jr, The Salsoul Orchestra embark on a compelling musical journey, where you hear another side to their music.

Earl Young’s pounding drums open Don’t Beat Around The Busch, providing the track’s funky heartbeat. Guitars, cascading strings and The Sweethearts of Sigma’s urgent, sassy backing vocals are augmented by a glorious combination of percussion, keyboards, sizzling guitars. Sensuous, punchy chants, Earl’s mesmerizing drumbeats and an infectiously catchy guitar solo have you spellbound. Add to this bursts of horns and dramatic, cascading strings and a myriad of percussion, and you’re spellbound, caught in a storm of dramatic, mesmeric, rhythmic music. You can’t help but be impressed by the combined talents of The Salsoul Orchestra and Vince Montana Jr.’s genius at bringing everything together.

On Standing And Waiting On Love, bursts of rasping horns, rhythm section and wah-wah guitars are joined by swathes of swirling strings, as a glorious uptempo track takes shape. Keyboards, percussion and cooing backing harmonies enter, as The Sweethearts of Sigma give one of their best, most soulful performances. Meanwhile, The Salsoul Orchestra fuse soul , funk and a disco beat. Adding to the finishing touch is Vince Montana Jr.’s vibes which, along with the dancing strings and Norman Harris’ guitar playing, play their part in this uplifting, joyous slice of sunshine.

Salsoul 3001 is an adaptation of Richard Strauss’ interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It’s a book I’ve read, and for anyone who suffers from chronic insomnia, is a perfect cure. There’s a dramatic space-age opening to the track. In the distance, percussion plays, building up the drama. Then the sound of 2001 A Space Odyssey can be heard, but with a twist. Booming, dramatic drums, frantic percussion, growling horns and grand strings combine, as The Salsoul Orchestra take you on A Space Odyssey, one that’s funky and soulful. Lush strings, keyboards, punchy blazing horns and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with percussion, taking you on an enthralling, dramatic journey aboard Salsoul 3001.

Not every band could take two standards like We’ve Only Just Begun and Feelings, crossing 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 Orchestra. 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 Orchestra are transformed into a lounge band, but the greatest lounge band you’ll ever hear, capable of making some really beautiful music.

The final track on Nice ‘N’ Nasty is Ritzy Mambo. After this, there’s only the thirteen-second tongue in cheek Jack and Jill. As the Latin delights of Ritzy Mambo unfolds, you realize how truly versatile The Salsoul Orchestra. They’re able to seamlessly shift styles at will. Percussion, keyboards and the rhythm section open the track, before sweeping strings enter. They signal the arrival of The Sweethearts of Sigma joyous, sometimes sassy backing vocals. Rasping horns join the percussion and strings as Ron Baker’s pounding bass anchors the track. Vince Montana Jr. unleashes another scintillating vibes solo, that adds to the Latin sound of this joyous, hook-laden track. It’s a glorious way to close Nice ‘N’ Nasty, one that leaves you with a mile on your face.

Every time I listen to one of The Salsoul Orchestra’s albums, including Nice ‘N’ Nasty, I’m always struck by the combined creative talents of everyone involved. Not only were The Salsoul Orchestra a hugely talented group of musicians, but also songwriter, arrangers and producers. At Salsoul Records, these talents were unleashed, while at Philadelphia International Records, the talents of Baker, Harris, Young and Vince Montana Jr. were underused. They were part of M.F.S.B., but not as actively involved in songwriting and arranging, production as they were at Salsoul. All this talent was on Gamble and Huff’s doorstep, but they neither used nor embraced it. That seems strange, that they never involved such hugely creative and talented people. Maybe, the dispute over payments that caused M.F.S.B. to leave Philadelphia International Records was something of a blessing in disguise.

After many members of M.F.S.B.left Philadelphia International Records, their creativity was unleashed, playing a vital part in Salsoul’s sound and success. This creativity and talent can be heard on Nice ‘N’ Nasty, where the Baker, Harris, Young provide the track’s heartbeat, while producer Vince Montana Jr. brought together the combined talents of musicians that included guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, keyboard player Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, percussionist Larry Washington, flautist Jack Faith and violinist Don Renaldo. Adding the final finishing touch were the legendary backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma. Each of these musicians and backing singers played their part in making Nice ‘N’ Nasty such a compelling, uplifting, joyous and timeless classic. Even thirty-six years later, listening to Nice ‘N’ Nasty well, It’s Good For the Soul and is the perfect introduction to a majestic journey through the back-catalogue of The Salsoul Orchestra that We’ve Only Just Begun. Standout Tracks: It’s Good For the Soul, Nice ‘N’ Nasty, Standing And Waiting and We’ve Only Just Begun.


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