As soon as Kenny Gamble and Thom Huff start­ed min­ing soul-music gold in Philadelphia, plen­ty of singers trekked over to Sigma Sound Studios to see if they could cap­ture a lit­tle Philly Soul mag­ic for their own careers.  Indeed, dur­ing Gamble/Huff’s most suc­cess­ful years every­one from Dusty Springfield to Johnny Mathis would take a crack at the Philly Sound.  Doing so didn’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly guar­an­tee suc­cess — but it did guar­an­tee some good music would be pro­duced.

An inter­est­ing, lesser known case is Ronnie Dyson’s One Man Band.  Though it is not a full Philly Soul effort, the big draw here is a quar­tet of pro­duc­tions by Delfonics/Spinners mas­ter­mind Thom Bell.  The title track is a good exam­ple of Bell’s approach to the Philly style in its prime: a soar­ing melody off­sets a barbed lyric about the iso­lat­ing poten­tial of self-reliance, all sup­port­ed by plush orches­tra­tions and regal yet soul­ful har­monies.  Dyson’s back­ground was musi­cal the­ater so he has the lung­pow­er and actor­ly chops to flesh out the sce­nar­io effec­tive­ly.  The result is eas­i­ly wor­thy of the hits Bell was crank­ing out for the Spinners around this time and it was the album’s hit sin­gle, hit­ting high on both the pop and R&B charts.

Bell’s oth­er tracks on One Man Band are sim­i­lar­ly impres­sive: “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely,” a state­ly lament about try­ing to stave off the pain of a break-up, was the fol­low-up sin­gle.  It didn’t hit as big but it was a wor­thy suc­ces­sor, with a beau­ti­ful­ly-lay­ered arrange­ment where strings, horns and glossy back­ing vocals back up Dyson’s soul­ful expres­sion of heartache in style.  It’s worth not­ing that The Main Ingredient would score a big hit with a cov­er of this song the next year.  Elsewhere, “I Think I’ll Tell Her” under­scores its tale of infi­deli­ty with a jazzy shuf­fle that makes its intro­spec­tion ele­gant while “Give In To Love” is a roman­tic plea where the sub­tle orches­tra­tion gives way at cho­rus time for a heart-stop­ping blend of Dyson’s rich lead vocal and choir-like back­ing har­monies. Dyson gives a rich­ly-tex­tured per­for­mance on all the Bell tracks and the results are pure class.

The remain­der of One Man Band is divid­ed between cuts pro­duced by Stan Vincent, who helmed Dyson’s first hit “If You Let Me Make Love To You (Why Can’t I Touch You?),” and Billy Jackson.  Vincent’s cuts fare best: “When You Get Right Down To It” blends early-1970’s singer-song­writer pro­duc­tion touch­es with a Johnny Mathis style of bal­lad melo­dra­ma and “Point Of No Return” is a dri­ving cov­er of a Stylistics tune that has an AM-pop punch­i­ness to it (This song also hap­pened to be penned by Bell with writ­ing part­ner Linda Creed and it inspired Columbia execs to hire Bell to work on the album).  Vincent also man­ages an impres­sive, unex­pect­ed Guess Who cov­er with “A Wednesday In Your Garden,” which trans­forms the lite-psy­ch bal­ladry of the orig­i­nal into some­thing more intense as Dyson dri­ves the cho­rus home with high-octane style.

The Jackson-pro­duced tracks are the most mod­est ones on the album but still work well enough to fit in: “Girl Don’t Come” gets a state­ly assist from a Thom Bell arrange­ment that adds per­cus­sive horn and string ele­ments and “The Love Of A Woman” turns this Neil Sedaka-penned num­ber into a swing­ing piece of orches­trat­ed lounge-soul.  A cov­er of the Beatles’ “Something” is a lit­tle too Vegas-y in its arrange­ment but Dyson redeems it with a rous­ing vocal per­for­mance.

In short, One Man Band is a good early-1970’s soul album that gets a real Philly Soul shot in the arm from Bell’s writ­ing, arrang­ing and pro­duc­ing chops.  It’s a shame that Bell and Dyson nev­er did a full album togeth­er because their work on One Man Band sug­gests they could have made sweet-soul mag­ic togeth­er.

CD Notes: this for­got­ten album has got­ten its long-over­due CD reis­sue from Purpose Music Vaults, who pro­vid­ed Schlockmania with a 320k MP3 ver­sion of the set and a copy of the lin­er notes for this review.  The lin­ers do a great job of telling the sto­ry of Dyson’s crossover into Philly Soul, incor­po­rat­ing new inter­view mate­ri­al from Stan Vincent and song­writer Vinnie Barrett.  The Purpose reis­sue also includes six bonus tracks tak­en from non-album Dyson sin­gles, includ­ing a few pro­duced by Philly stal­wart Norman Harris.  The best of the bonus items is “Captain of Your Soul,” a grand self-affir­ma­tion anthem pro­duced by Friends Of Distinction mae­stro John Florez.  It has a pro­to-dis­co beat and an ele­gant yet emo­tion­al vocal turn from Dyson.