2012 is shaping up to be a big year for Philly Soul fans. The legendary Philadelphia International Records label is celebrating its 40-year anniversary and has teamed up with Harmless Records to release a variety of reissues that pay tribute to the satin-soul heritage it created during its glory years in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits is the first release in this series and it’s a daring collection that bypasses the usual “collect the standards” approach to create a release that forges a link between classic Philly soul and today’s d.j.-driven dance music scene.
Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits offers a very personal take on what makes Philly Soul great by allowing an international collection of d.j.‘s to rework a variety of tracks from the Philadelphia International archives. To the credit of compilers Jay Negron and Ian Dewhirst, they didn’t go for the expected “remix the hits” approach. There are a few standard-bearers here but the real focus is the deep catalog stuff that crate-digging aficionados obsess over. For example, cult faves like Jean Carn and the Jones Girls are highlighted no less than three times each on this set.
This set also embraces a variety of approaches to the material. Despite the set’s title, re-edits aren’t the only thing that is going on here. In fact, there are a handful of cuts that add new production, including new rhythm tracks and a variety of mixing effects, to the selections. For example, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Be For Real” is transformed by Tim McAllister from a moody ballad into an uptempo house music dancefest while The Noodleman uses a barrage of dub-style echo effects to rework McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” so it ceases to be a disco stepper and instead becomes a veritable rollercoaster of spacey peaks and valleys.
Occasionally, there is a moment of overreach on these radical reworkings — for instance, DJ Friction’s redux of the Jones Girls’ “Dance Turned Into Romance” overdoes some trippy vocal re-edits during the chorus — but the majority of these genre-benders hit the right blend of adding the new and respecting the vintage. Perhaps the best example of this approach is the Deep&Disco rework of The O’Jays’ “Darling Darling Baby”: a classic Philly Soul ballad is subtly revised with an inspired use of echo and some beat-chopping to create a psychedelicized hi-tech wonder. It sounds classically soulful and breathtakingly modern all at once, which is the ideal achievement for an experiment like this.
Elsewhere, Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits presents cuts that adhere closer to the re-edit template but add in a modern remix touch or two. For example, DJ Apt One’s re-edit of “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sticks close the track of the epic original but gives it a nice “bookends” effect by opening and closing it with a stripped-down intro that adds a slight bit of echo to the vocals. Another strong entry in this style is Todd Terje’s take on the Dee Dee Sharp Gamble favorite “Easy Money”: the sweet, mellow-jazz funk flavor of the original track is highlighted but he adds in a killer dub-heavy percussion break that is tailor-made for a modern dance floor’s needs.
That said, the remaining half of Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits is devoted to classic-style re-edits that mix things up without any remix-style retouching of the original recordings. For example, a D.J. who goes by the name Morning Star goes the Tom Moulton route and turns in a trio of re-edits that extend the Philly groove without calling attention to its edits: the best of these is probably a re-edit of Jean Carn’s “If You Wanna Go Back” that seamlessly expands the Latin-style rhythm without overextending the melody. Jimmy The Twin’s re-edit of “Message In Our Music” by the O’Jays is another gem in this vein, a 9-minute epic that takes adventure of the rich, acoustic textures of the original cut without wearing out its welcome.
Finally, it should be noted that there are edits here that show an adventurous touch without ever abandoning the original elements: DJ Mila’s take on Dexter Wansel’s “Life On Mars” strips down the original’s atmospheric niceties to isolate its relentless jazz-funk core while a hard-driving take on Billy Paul’s “Only The Strong Survive” by J*Ski (a.k.a. compiler Jay Negron) focuses on Paul’s between-verse vamping and some adventurous horn work to create a real barnstormer of a pure-dance track. It’s kind of like a Walter Gibbons remix, only it focuses on the brass section for its percussive drive instead of the drums.
All in all, Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits is a generous set that applies a modern spirit of adventure to classic grooves without losing sight of the musicality and sweetness that made the original versions so special to soul music fans. Some of the flourishes may be a bit wild for the purists out the open-minded will quickly hear that there is something here for everyone — and all the inclusions reflect the “love is the message” ethos of Philly Soul.