Ace’s series of CDs that will issue the Delfonics complete Philly Groove recordings continues with a pairing of their fourth and fifth albums (the third was a “Super Hits” set), originally released in 1970 and 1972.
The Delfonics – along with the Intruders – were standard bearers for what would become known worldwide as the Philly Sound although their contributions to its growth are often overlooked in the rush to praise those who followed in their wake. They were the first soul act to sell a million on a Philadelphia label, and their collaborations with genius arrangercomposer Thom Bell were instrumental in launching his career as the City Of Brotherly Love’s most admired librettist. It’s unfortunate that their success slightly predated the world’s desire for all things Philly. Had they ridden the crest of the wave that brought fame to the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and the Three Degrees, for instance, they would be regarded in the same light.
The two albums here mark the end of one era and the beginning of another for the Delfonics. The first LP proffers the apex of their collaborations with Thom Bell, culminating in the unbeatable classics ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’ and ‘Trying To Make A Fool Of Me’. The arrangements of those, and others such as the multilayered dancer ‘Down Is Up, Up Is Down’, are matched by lead singer William “Poogie” Hart’s exceptional lyrics and his fragile, ethereal high tenor (an inspiration for many successful groups of the early 70s, such as the Moments and Whatnauts). “The Delfonics” might just be the most accomplished Philadelphia soul album in a decade that overflowed with them. After this LP Bell moved on to work with a fantastic array of artists, including the Stylistics, the Spinners, Johnny Mathis and Elton John.
“Tell Me This Is A Dream” shows that there was life beyond Bell, with the Hart brothers shouldering the lion’s share of the compositional workload, and eminent songwriterguitarist Norman Harris wielding the conductor’s baton to inspirational effect.
There’s a uniformity of quality here on both albums – which rubbishes the notion that it was all downhill for the Delfonics after they and Bell went their separate ways. It isn’t so very strange as the same studios, engineer and more-or-less the same musicians were employed. Indeed, the Delfonics records from 1971 onwards often excel those that their reputation was built upon. For proof, listen to six exquisite minutes of ‘I Gave To You’ from the first half of our programme, or their first “post breakup” single, ‘Hey Love’, from the second, which has a sublime and rare lead from “other” brother, Wilbert Hart.
Soul group harmony never gets any better than it does here. It’s good to welcome these two wonderful albums into the catalogue, and in the case of “Tell Me This Is A Dream”, on CD for the first time.
By Tony Rounce