Leon Huff & Gladys Knight & the Pips
As if you hadn't noticed, the low cost of manufacturing CDs still hasn't been passed along to the average consumer -- but at least it's inspired reissue companies to bring long-forgotten obscurities like these back to the marketplace.
Here to Create Music, from 1980, is the only solo album made by Huff, who with partner Kenny Gamble were instrumental in creating the string-heavy soul that become known as the Philadelphia sound, and while it's a generally modest package, it's filled with understated delights. "Your Body Won't Move If You Can't Feel the Groove" eschews disco's four-on-the-floor thumping in favor of a skittering high-hat and gospel-inflected wailing courtesy of guest stars Teddy Pendergrass, the Jones Girls, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, and O'Jays Eddie Levert and Walter Williams. That's followed by the R&B-oriented jazz keyboards of "I Ain't Jivin', I'm Jammin'," the thrillingly corny "No Greater Love" (featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica), and "Tasty," which is. The disc is far from essential, but it exudes a charming sophistication -- like Booker T. & the MG's for the smoking-jacket set.
The soundtrack to Claudine, a 1974 kitchen-sink melodrama co-starring James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll, is even better thanks to Curtis Mayfield, who penned all the songs on it. His work is more subtle than on Superfly, his high-water mark, but "Mr. Welfare Man" mates topical lyrics ("I'm so tired of trying to prove my equal rights") with a momentum-gathering structure and impassioned belting by Knight; "To Be Invisible" is poignant without ever becoming lachrymose; "The Makings of You" could be used as a romance starter kit; and "Hold On" goes from churchy organ to bluesy wailing in five gorgeous minutes. To have music this good back on the shelves after twenty years or more is enough to restore your faith in capitalism. Almost.
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