PHILLY REGROOVED 2: Adventures In The Land Of Multi-Textured Melody

It could be argued that Philly Soul is the richest flavor of soul music ever created.  From the rhythm section to the vocals to the orchestral sweetening, it’s the subgenre that offers the listener the most decadent listening experience.  The musicians of Philadelphia had the knack for ensemble playing and the musical vocabulary necessary to create deep-dish sculptures of melody – and when equally skilled arrangers and producers harnessed those musicians’ skills, the results could be breathtaking.

Similarly, Tom Moulton’s work as a remixer represents an elegant peak of that particular art form.  He can elongate a groove without padding it, giving the listener a clearer perspective on all the complexity and hooks that might get buried in a more straightforward mix of a soul or disco track.  Thus, he is a perfect match with Philly Soul: the original Philly Regrooved proved they are a pairing made in orchestral-groove heaven and Philly Regrooved 2 shows there is plenty of life left in this combo.

As with the first volume, Philly Regrooved 2 showcases Moulton tackling a variety of vintage Philly Soul productions, re-arranging and extending them to create new versions that are twice as lush and complex.  It avoids the kind of Gamble-Huff classics that Moulton tackled in his definitive remix collection Philadelphia Classics in favor of stuff from smaller Philly labels: First Choice is the best known group here, with the majority of the artist roster featuring lesser known groups like Moment Of Truth and pure studio-band projects like Loose Change and TJM (note: both of the latter “groups” were also Moulton productions that get fresh takes on this compilation).

The results have a pleasingly timeless feel to them.  Moulton sidesteps modern remixing vices like deliberately choppy beat-looping and additional production in favor of creating a seamless experience where the listener is treated to lengthier intros and outros as well as new mid-track breakdowns that are integrated in an organic, respectful style.  A great example of Moulton’s technique is heard in his remix of First Choice’s “Smarty Pants,” which takes the compact, “hit single”-minded original and expands it in a way that allows the listener to luxuriate in the careful arrangement of its strings, vibes and horns.

This elegant touch can be felt throughout Philly Regrooved 2: the Latin-accented “Put Yourself In My Place” by TJM is a breathlessly percussive rollercoaster that never gets dull even at a nearly 9-minute length (listen to the way the strings and horns dart in and around each other during the break) and the break in the middle of Moment Of Truth’s “Love At First Sight” gives the audience a brief respite from its razzle-dazzle pace by allowing them to savor a bit of jazzy interplay between electric piano and rhythm guitar. In every case, Moulton pushes the musicality of these tracks to the fore in a way that complements their expansive instrumentation.

However, the biggest highlights on Philly Regrooved 2 may be a pair of remixed cuts by Loose Change, a production project that paired Moulton with arranger Thor Baldursson.  The first is “Straight From The Heart,” is a midtempo dance track where the rhythm section, keyboard and strings create a taut, polyrhythmic groove that pays off in a epic three-minute finale where one texture cascades over another to create a hypnotic effect.   The other is “Rising Cost Of Love,” an impossibly elegant ballad where a gently pulsing groove driven by meditative electric piano licks creates an stylish backdrop for the singers’ gospel-tinged vocals and plush strings that ebb and flow with ethereal grace.  1970’s soul fans will love getting lost in the chic labyrinths that Moulton builds out of these songs.

In short, Philly Regrooved 2 is an obvious must for fans of Philly Soul and Tom Moulton.  If you go for the richer styles of soul music, it’ll leave you hoping that Moulton will continue to weave his magic in the vaults of vintage soul.

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