To some music fans, remix is a dirty word.  That is easy to under­stand if one thinks of mod­ern approach to remix­ing.  A lot of today’s remix­ers do it the wrong way, throw­ing out much of a song’s instru­men­ta­tion and graft­ing on gra­tu­itous new pro­duc­tion with a Frankenstein-ian lack of sen­si­tiv­ity towards the orig­i­nal record­ing.  However, a remix can be a thing of beauty in the proper respect­ful hands and allow the lis­tener to enjoy an old favorite from a new angle as it draws them deeper into its grooves.

One of the mas­ters of this approach is Tom Moulton, whom many a disco and R&B fan rec­og­nize as the pio­neer of the for­mat.  His mix­ing aes­thetic is built on work­ing within the record­ing itself: he extends and/or invents intros, out­ros and instru­men­tal breaks in a way that gives the lis­tener more of the good thing they tuned in for.  The end result never feels like padding.  Instead, it feels like new lay­ers of detail and ear candy have been brought up to enhance the song’s pleasure level.

Philly Re-Grooved is Moulton’s lat­est album-length ven­ture and it’s good to hear that his clas­si­cal remix approach is very much intact.  This time, the songs he is work­ing with come from the cat­a­log of Philly Groove Records, an inde­pen­dent label run by pro­ducer Stan Watson (who had a hand in all but one of the tracks included in this com­pi­la­tion).  Moulton did a similar-themed com­pi­la­tion back in the 1970’s with Philadelphia Classics, a com­pi­la­tion of remixed songs from the Philadelphia International label, and this new album is very much the musical/spiritual descen­dent of that beloved favorite.

The songs are all arranged and pro­duced in the clas­sic Philly soul style, with all the usual Sigma Sound sus­pects pro­vid­ing the instru­men­ta­tion and arrange­ments.  A few are pro­to­typ­i­cal disco tracks but you don’t have to be a disco fan to appre­ci­ate this set as its main focus is lushly-arranged R&B that weds grit and gloss with skill.  Cult favorite girl-group First Choice com­mands a lot of the run­ning time with no less than five tracks: gems include the clas­sic Northern-Soul stom­per “This Is The House Where Love Died,” which has its intro lib­er­ally extended so lis­ten­ers can focus on how it seam­lessly weds per­cus­sive string and horn lines to its throb­bing beat, and “Gotta Get Away,” which adds new breaks to high­light the intri­ca­cies of its com­plex arrange­ment.

Other clas­sic Philly soul leg­ends get their due on this set: for instance, “I Told You So” by the Delfonics  and “Ruby Lee” by Nat Turner (with Major Harris han­dling lead vocal duties) are exten­sions that show off the rich­ness of the arrange­ments with­out leav­ing their stel­lar vocal tracks on the side­lines for very long.  There are also some cult gems that are equally wor­thy of notice.  To Your Humble Reviewer’s ears, the win­ner in that cat­e­gory is “Big Stone Wall (Around Your Heart)” by Tapestry, a tracks that weds a clever, Smokey Robinson-esque lyri­cal con­cept to a rous­ing melody that is pumped by a hearty, brass-fortified arrangement.

However, the two killers of this set are the last two tracks.  The first of these is “Don’t Put Me Down” by Finishing Touch.  It glides in on an ele­gant, jazzy groove where elec­tric piano sets the mood over a soft but insis­tent beat before blos­som­ing into a grand, dreamy bal­lad where shift­ing lay­ers of har­mony vocals and shiv­ery strings ebb and flow in a hyp­notic style.  The other is “Whatcha Gonna Do” by Heaven ‘N Hell and it’s cut from a sim­i­lar cloth: a sin­u­ous, string-laced back­ing track with a steady beat serves as the back­drop for a group of singers trad­ing lines as they build in a gospel-tinged style towards a majes­tic cho­rus built around a per­cus­sive chant of the title line.  Moulton seam­lessly mixes both songs through mul­ti­ple cycles of ten­sion and release that are pos­i­tively hyp­notic — if you’re a fan of this sound, you’ll never want either song to end.

The only real flaw with Philly Re-Grooved is the mas­ter­ing.  As a few read­ers pointed out to Your Humble Reviewer, the disc has been mas­tered at a high vol­ume.  A listener’s level of trou­ble with this will depend on their sen­si­tiv­ity to this issue — it didn’t make the end result unlis­ten­able for these ears but the more aggressively-layered tracks did sound notice­ably “cramped.”  Despite this unfor­tu­nate prob­lem, the disc remains a good lis­ten thanks to Moulton’s stel­lar work.  It also includes a nice set of liner notes that cover Moulton’s biog­ra­phy and inter­est­ing trivia about the Philly Groove label.

In short,  Moulton afi­ciona­dos will want to check Philly Re-Grooved out — the auteur of the remix has still got it.