You would be hard pressed to find a flavor of classic soul music more elegant than Philly Soul. From top to bottom, this sound was designed to be the most lush indulgence the genre could offer: a rhythm section that could blend grit with jazz, bolstered with thick layers of keyboards, strings, horns and vocal harmonies. This layering process was complex yet always handled with skill, creating a dense yet inviting structure that demands repeat listens so the listener can soak up all its nuances.
This style of music is also tailor made for remixing: there’s so much packed into the grooves of your average Philly Soul production that any of number of things can be done with it by the right set of hands. If you want to hear it done correctly, you need look no further that Tom Moulton. He created the benchmark work of Philly Soul remixing with Philadelphia Classics, a stellar double-album that gently elongated and retooled a batch of classics from the Philadelphia International Records library for dance floor purposes. It was the perfect match of mixer and material and remains a cult favorite amongst disco fanatics and soul purists alike.
Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Mixes takes a great thing and makes it better by expanding the original 2-LP Philadelphia Classics set into a 4 compact disc box set. It collects everything from the original album, adds the various remixes that Moulton did for Philadelphia International during the second half of the ’70s and further sweetens the deal with an additional eleven brand-new remixes that Moulton created during the second half of 2011. Simply put, this is a feast of symphonic soul.
Disc one offers nine tracks that fall right in the heart of Philadelphia International’s big rise to chart prominence in 1972 and 1973. In the new mix area, there is a reworking of “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays that plays on the song’s tension and release format by deftly alternating blocks of vocals with instrumental breaks while the extended take on the Intruders’ “Win Place Or Show” weaves the track’s soaring strings and dreamily harmonized chorus into a hypnotic mantra that will break down the listener’s defenses. Other knockouts on this disc include Philadelphia Classics-era gems “Dirty Old Man” by the Three Degrees and “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by the Intruders, the latter a textbook example of Moulton’s mixing style.
Disc two is right in the pocket of the label’s commercial glory days, complete with the Three Degrees classic “When Will I See You Again” and a double shot of instrumental goodness from MFSB with “T.S.O.P” and “Love Is The Message.” All three date back to Philadelphia Classics and “Love Is The Message” is rightly revered as one of the all-time classic Moulton mixes. The new surprises on this disc are Billy Paul’s “The Whole Town’s Talking,” a gorgeous reworking of a deep cut that maximizes the song’s Philly-goes-Latin lilt, and Robert Upchurch’s “The Devil Made Me Do It,” a forgotten slab of Philly funk that is transformed into an epic mid-tempo groove excursion.
Disc three might be the funkiest of the set, as it is mostly built around numbers that show of the Philadelphia International house band’s ability to get down and jam. Classic Moulton material here include his vintage mix of “Do It Anyway You Wanna” by People’s Choice, a relentless mix that shows Moulton’s skill at manipulating a groove without relying on any trademark strings or horns, and jumbo-size reworkings of the O’Jays’ “I Love Music” and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” both of which fit the Moulton “take a good thing and make it better” mandate.
The new mixes on disc three show a similar deep-pocket approach to funk, including a mix of Archie Bell And The Drells’ “Let’s Groove” that rolls over the listener like a rhythm & blues Panzer, and a new medley of “Trammps’ Disco Theme” and “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart,” which effectively plays on the combustible mixture of grandiose orchestration, driving rhythms and gospel vocalizing that frequently co-existed on Philly Soul classics. The exception to the funkiness rule on this disc is a sparkling new take on Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mind,” which finds Moulton extending the cocktail-jazz-goes-disco elegance of the original into a tension-and-release epic on a par with this set’s take on “Back Stabbers.”
The final disc of the set takes us into the end of the ’70s as it was giving way to the ’80s: thus, it digs into more cult favorite-style material. Everything except for one cut is a new mix so Moulton fans will be very happy with the contents. Highlights include a barnstorming remix of Teddy Pendergrass’ “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” which gets a lot of mileage out of the song’s propulsive horn-based accompaniment, and a nine-plus-minutes reworking of the Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,” which deftly explores the lightly jazzy layers of the classy Dexter Wansel arrangement.
That said, the killer on this disc is a downright symphonic take on Lou Rawls’ “See You When I Git There,” which highlights both the Latin-tinged rhythms and the impossibly luxurious string and horn arrangements. Lou’s voice glides elegantly over this blend, aided impeccably by the smooth background work from Sigma Sound’s backing singers. Like the rest of Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Mixes, it’s a feast of textures that a Philly Soul fanatic will never tire of.