required listening

CD Review

BILLY PAUL  -  Me & Mrs Jones : The Anthology

Soul Music (UK) SMCR 5182D (2cd)

Your Song; Am I Black Enough For You; Brown Baby; The Whole Town’s Talking; Thanks For Saving My Life; Only The Strong Survive; How Good Is Your Game; Be Truthful To Me; False Faces; People Power; Let The Dollar Circulate; Bring The Family Back; Let ‘Em In; America (We Need The Light); We All Got A Mission; New Day New World Comin’; This Is Your Life; Ebony Woman; Let’s Fall In Love All Over Again; Me And Mrs Jones; It’s Too Late; I Was Married; When Love Is New; You’re My Sweetness; Let’s Make A Baby; Billy’s Back Home; I Think I’ll Stay Home Today; I Trust You; Lately; Let Me In; Sexual Therapy

Despite having cut his first record in 1952 (for Jubilee) at the age of sixteen, it would take a further twenty years before the name of Billy Paul would really hit the international map.  The song that did it... ‘Me And Mrs Jones’, a stunning ballad penned by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert over an atmospheric Bobby Martin arrangement, perhaps not the most obvious contender for worldwide fame it did, nevertheless, literally strike all the right notes to the listening public of the day and, from that point, for the next seven years spent at Philadelphia International Records, Paul could barely put a foot wrong.  Of the 31 tracks here chosen to represent an anthology derived from eleven albums, just three pre-date the set’s title track and a further three are taken from a move to Total Experience in 1985, where recording methods were rather far removed from the Philly heyday.  Billy Paul’s grounding had been in jazz, as he told ‘In The Basement’ magazine for a feature in issue #36...  “I would say basically I’m a jazz singer... and, yes, I prefer jazz...  Just like John Coltrane had wanted to be a singer, I always wanted to be a saxophone player.  So I tried to sing like a saxophone... I like all the melodics.”  Billy Paul’s musical aspirations were curtailed by a period serving Uncle Sam but, once discharged, he returned to his native Philadelphia and the burgeoning jazz scene, quickly coming to the attention of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who signed him to their Neptune label but, after two critically-acclaimed but not highly lucrative albums, they decided their man should take a more commercial path along that travelled by their already charting artists who were doing for the City of Brotherly Love what the Motowners did for Detroit a decade earlier.  To give Gamble and Huff their credits, however, Billy Paul’s roots and preferences always seemed to be respected, witnessed here by his treatments (in particular) of Elton John/Bernie Taupin’s ‘Your Song’ and the only acceptable/listenable version this scribe has so far encountered of Paul McCartney’s ‘Let ‘Em In’.  Perhaps the most impactful of all Billy’s albums was the 1973 set, ‘War Of The Gods’, something of a concept set from which here we get the dancer, ‘The Whole Town’s Talking‘ with slightly funky undertones, ‘Thanks For Saving My Life’, which surely needs no introduction and, over on cd-two, the ballad, ‘I Was Married’.  In line with much of the Philadelphia International lyrical output, Paul got to record ‘message‘ songs which went beyond the moon and June romantic scenario, examples including the uptempo ‘People Power’, ‘Let The Dollar Circulate’, a mid-paced item which the man co-wrote and produced, ‘America (We Need The Light)’, another Paul co-composition and the funky ‘New Day New World Comin’’, taken from the various artist compilation album, ‘Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto’.  Cd-two opens with a very classy version of Jimmy Webb’s ‘This Is Your Life‘ - one of the pre- ‘Me And Mrs Jones‘ tracks and closes with the three later items from ‘Lately’, the 1985 album cut for Total Experience, where only the title track had merit, despite the harsh keyboard work and ‘Sexual Therapy‘ tried ‘doing a Marvin Gaye‘ to the benefit of no one, not least the listener.  In between, more of the Philly Sound magic can be heard via such as the ultra-romantic sound of ‘When Love Is New‘ - fighting the somewhat cynical lyrics and a number which, with a rise in tempo, would provide a hit for Arthur Prysock a year later- the midtempo request to ‘Let’s Make A Baby‘ and the glowing ‘I Think I’ll Stay Home Today’.

review posted 13/4/19 /