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Album Review: Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics by The Delfonics
Excellent, Based on 6 Critics
PopMatters - 90 Based on rating 9/10
In 2002—and for six years following—Verve Records released a series of compilations entitled Verve Remixed, consisting of electro remixes of songs made famous by Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, James Brown, and the like. The remixes seemed like a tawdry way of getting a younger generation to listen to founding figures of blues and soul, and ultimately reduced these modifications of classic cuts to shopping mall muzak. When it comes to encouraging impressionable listeners to seek out past greats, Adrian Younge has taken a more effective path: Rather than remastering or remixing a classic artist’s greatest hits, he’s instead sought out that artist and has worked with them in creating a new and surprising release.
Aficionados of sophisticated, sweet and sensual soul music need no introduction to William Hart. He's the leader and prominent songwriter of legendary trio the Delfonics (originally featuring his brother, Wilbert, and the late Randy Cain as well), which helped put Philadelphia on the map as a soul music capitol in the late '60s and early '70s, with a string of classics like "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" and "La-La-Means I Love You. " While even the babies conceived to those luxurious grooves are pushing midlife at this point, Hart's voice has aged like fine wine on his collaboration with multi-instrumentalist/producer Adrian Younge.
Adrian Younge conceived "Turn Down the Sound," one of the highlights from Venice Dawn's Something About April, as an imagined RZA-produced '60s Delfonics cut. Shortly after the release of that cinematic, psychedelic soul masterpiece, a fan put Younge in touch with the Delfonics' William Hart. The meeting led to this, the best Delfonics album since 1970.
It's almost 20 years since Rick Rubin successfully repositioned Johnny Cash from a fading star in a terminally uncool genre into the walking embodiment of cool with American Recordings. In the interim, the late-career Rubin-style makeover has become just as much of a cliche as the album of standards from the American songbook. A release about a new collaboration between the Delfonics' William Hart, and Adrian Younge, a producer several decades his junior, said that the resulting album was going to be "what the kids call 'hip-hop'"-- which sounds a lot like an unappealing welcome to the rap game Rubin-Cash formula.
An inveterate crate digger with a distinctly off-beat sensibility, Adrian Younge has quickly defined himself as a unique reimaginer of old sounds, finding new life in the dusty world of soul samples and ‘70s vinyl fetishism. First was his dead-on soundtrack for the blaxpoitation spoof Black Dynamite, providing embellished funk backings that matched the film’s obsessive visual specificity. With Something About April, he established his Prince-style abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, figuratively remixing the sound of an era while literally remixing himself, transforming an album recorded years prior under the name Venice Dawn.
This isn’t your father’s Delfonics. The version he might remember was rooted in Philly soul’s sweeping string arrangements and a young William Hart crooning in his sweet falsetto on hits like “(La-La) Means I Love You” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” Now in his 80s, Hart isn’t the same man (or voice) he used to be, but he still has plenty to say, and producer Adrian Younge is the ideal choice to take dictation. Guided by Younge’s grittier sound, an older, wiser Hart explores rawer emotions: “Stand Up” is a funky rebuke of social apathy, ominous “Enemies” bristles with paranoia, and tender “Lover’s Melody” doesn’t disguise its sexual undercurrent.