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CD Reviews: Feel The Love

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The Delfonics, Love Songs (Sony, 2005)
Sarah Vaughan, Love Songs (Sony, 2005)

Recently, Sony has begun taking advantage of its dormant catalog, releasing a series of artist compilations under the title Love Songs. While not a new idea, the idea is simplicity itself: take a number of tracks by a great balladeer, find a nice flower picture for the front, price it at next to nothing, and voila! Instant catalog sales! I recently got hold of the Delfonics and Sarah Vaughn editions of “Love Songs,” and if they are any indication, the entire “Love Songs” series is a home run.

The Delfonics were, for a time, one of the biggest Philly Soul groups in the country. In the early 1970s the group had a dozen Top 10 hits, and their smooth sound was a staple of black FM radio. That their star has waned while some of their contemporaries’ have not owes less to the quality of their music than to the fact that every single one of their hits was a treacly falsetto love ballad.

While Hayes was working the Black Moses angle and the Spinners and O’Jays were exploring funk, rock, and politics along with the joys of getting’ it on, the Delfonics clung resolutely to their proven formula: slow tempos, tight falsetto harmonies, overdubbed horns and strings, and songs about love, love, love. Since then, their sound has proven ideal for muzak and “lite hits” radio, a format sure to drain the joy out of even the best songs.

However, once you get them free of soft rock radio it becomes clear just how good the Delfonics really were. While their signature “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” is worth the price of admission alone, Love Songs includes 13 other worthy offerings. Ranging from the well known (“Ready or Not Here I Come,” “La-La Means I Love You) to the nearly forgotten (“Hey! Love,” “Hot Dog (I Love You So)”), there is not a dud in the bunch. Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown will undoubtedly have fond memories of “Didn’t I,” and astute fans of hip-hop will recognize “Ready Or Not” as the basis of not one but two major late 90s hits: The Fugees’ “Ready Or Not” and Missy Elliott’s “Sock It 2 Me.” Nice touches include the occasional sitar and the trademark Philly horn sounds, not to mention the sweetest falsetto harmonies anywhere.

Similarly, the Sarah Vaughan edition of Love Songs delivers 14 perfectly chosen selections from the early 1950s, when Vaughan was on top of her game. Her supple, luminous voice, perfect pitch, and sly, intimate way with a lyric are all on display, making this not only a first-rate selection of love songs, but a worthy introduction into one of the greatest jazz singers of the 20th century. I should know: before I got this compilation and did a little digging, this walking database of music facts knew next to nothing of her greatness, and now I want more, more, more. Not bad for $12.

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