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.