Dusted Reviews

V/A - Philadelphia Roots Volume 2: Funk, Soul and the Roots of Disco 1965-1973

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: V/A

Album: Philadelphia Roots Volume 2: Funk, Soul and the Roots of Disco 1965-1973

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Dec. 7, 2004

Philadelphia Roots Volume 2: Funk, Soul and the Roots of Disco 1965-1973 showcases a decent variety of the artists and styles that helped define that city’s greater contribution to soul music and pop in general. To a certain degree, as suggested by the extensive liner notes (who doesn’t like a “free book with purchase” without boxed-set prices?), Philly Roots… delivers on the thesis that disco – the first version – is a direct outgrowth of the sounds that emerged with artists like The Ambassadors, The Family and Howard Tate, all featured on this compilation. Nowhere, however, is the icing-and-no-cake cynicism of what disco had become by the time Vinny Barbarino got involved. In fact, the Jacksonian tunefulness and boundless enthusiasm of songs like Norma & The Heartaches’ “Hot Pants” (“...girl, those hot pants are going to get you in trouble”) would seem to indicate the opposing theory that no amount of cocaine, payola and post-Nixon dementia could have diluted the spirit of some of these songs to any of the pap that spilled out of Alicia Bridges or Gloria Gaynor.

Aside from the Philly Roots snapshot of pre-Studio 54 disco, there’s a lot of character to be found here as well. Of the album’s 20 tracks, three are recordings by The Three Degrees, a girl group known for, among other things, a Guinness Book of World Records entry (longest running female trio) and a few No. 1 hits in the early 1970s. Musically, The Three Degrees may be no further away from Detroit than their names suggests, but the stronger, greasier Philly backbeat, and the inclusion of vibraphone on every arrangement, go a long way to distinguish them from any of the Barry Gordy lab experiments. The melody of “Collage,” a staccato chromatic descent over the Tjader-esque vamp of vibes, bottles the bluesier feeling that disappeared when Philly soul became the disguise for the less substantial and poppier sounds of “blue-eye” soul. On the other end of the spectrum, Ruby and The Party Gang’s “Hey Ruby, Shut Your Mouth” brings “Shotgun”-era R&B with a dirtier subtext, speaking of rent parties in a surrealistic boogalo style. Ruby alone throws in enough sass to single-handedly define the city’s sound as deep, dark and never to be denied.

Some of the promise shown in these tracks never materialized past the cult of collectors and connoisseurs; the instrumental funk of cuts like The Promised Land’s “Cheyenne” and “Come Out Smokin’” by the Panic Buttons would find few if any logical descendants today, largely because the stuff is too damned hard. The horn charts here are broad and thick, not too far from Spectorville, but one of the secrets of Philly seems to be the pervasive toughness of the drums and the way they were recorded. Rumor has it that the snare sound of Motown was Benny Benjamin hitting a padded drum stool; that same obedient pop is carries shotgun-blast snare throughout these tunes from the Philly era. Without the deeper, ringing production of the rhythm tracks, however, some of the instrumental cuts veer dangerously closed to Isaac Hayes, if his work were arranged for a televised awards show.

To the casual listener, Philadelphia Roots Volume 2... suggests that the concept of Philly Soul is an oversimplification, obscuring the multiple subgenres that still bear a distinctly Philly stamp, but which predicted a lot more than disco. Even if this compilation is considered by some a rhythm and blues Tower of Babel, it’s worth the criticism if it keeps some of these languages from disappearing altogether.

By Andy Freivogel

Read More

View all articles by Andy Freivogel

Find out more about Soul Jazz

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.