Review: The Salsoul Orchestra, The Anthology
The Salsoul Orchestra was the house band at Salsoul Records. The Orchestra was formed after one of the three brothers who owned the brand new label went to Le Jardin dance club, decided he wanted Salsoul to make dance records, and decided to go after the four musicians he noticed were on many of the records he liked. Those musicians were drummer Earl Young, bass player Ronnie Baker, guitar player Norman Harris and vibraphonist Vincent Montana. The only problem was, these guys were the heart of the rhythm section for MFSB, the house band for Gamble and Huff’s Sigma Sound Studios, the architects of the immensely popular Philly Soul sound. (see Tuned In To Music’s review of the MFSB retrospective “Love is the Message”.) Salsoul succeeded in luring the four musicians away from MFSB and the Salsoul Orchestra was born.
The Anthology is a two disc collection that covers the Orchestra’s output from 1975 to 1983. The first disc covers the years 1975 to 1978 when the band was under the direction of Vincent Montana; the second disc covers 1979 to 1983 when many directors were in charge. The collection has been lovingly compiled by Salsoul UK who are engaged in an extensive reissue campaign of the Salsoul catalog.
For all the care that went into the design and presentation of this package, I wish I liked it more. Part of the problem is that almost all of the tracks are “original album versions” which means they are truncated and edited versions of the 12″ dance club mixes that this music was made for. In a sense it is unfair to criticize Salsoul UK for including mainly short versions of the songs because their goal was to present as wide a range of music as possible and because they also put out a series of double disc CD collections of 12″ tracks under the general title “The Definitive 12″ Masters” (reviewed here). Still and all, the short versions don’t do justice to the music or the Orchestra and it’s continually frustrating as track after track fades out after 3 to 5 minutes. One exception is the Walter Gibbons instrumental mix of “Catch Me on the Rebound” that ends disc 1. It stands head and shoulders above everything else on the disc.
Another problem is the music itself. Most of the tracks on disc 1 sound like interchangeable variants on the same basic themes. And most of those themes can be found in the Philly Soul sound of Gamble and Huff. Montana stresses that he used much more in the way of Latin percussion than Gamble and Huff and while that is the case, it doesn’t serve as that much of a distinguishing characteristic. Salsoul also makes much more use of powerful female singers but after a track or two they all begin to sound the same because their role in the arrangements is almost always the same. With the change in directors on disc two, the sound begins to shift but sometimes the new directions are not so good. In particular, a discofied version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” (Really. I’m not making this up.) is awful. The music doesn’t really begin to take on a new sound until the penultimate track, “Seconds” with a Loleatta Holloway vocal but by then it’s too little and too late.
Listeners who know and love The Salsoul Orchestra will love this collection. For others it seems like too much of the same thing gathered together in one place.
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