Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia

Sony/Legacy's 2008 four-disc Love Train: The Ultimate Sound of Philadelphia isn't the first box set assembled on Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's legendary Philadelphia International Records -- most notably it follows the triple-disc Philly Sound: Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and the Story of Brotherly Love (1966-1976) by just over a decade -- but it is surely the best, covering more ground and painting a fuller picture of the Philly soul sound than any other similar compilation. This is largely due to how Love Train doesn't focus solely on singles released on Philadelphia International: it encompasses sides released on early, pre-PIR imprints like Crimson, Philly Groove, and Gamble but, more importantly, it weaves in outside productions by Gamble & Huff and their crucial partner Thom Bell. Adding all these non-PIR singles greatly expands Love Train, as does the decision to have this set run all the way into 1983, thereby emphasizing how Gamble & Huff's symphonic soul opened the doors for both disco and quiet storm. Part of the set's appeal is that it does offer some education, illustrating how the psychedelicized soul of 1967's "Expressway (To Your Heart)" led to the cool, soft grooves of 1980's "Love T.K.O.," a document of how rich and adventurous '70s soul was thanks to Gamble & Huff and Bell, and all their artists and associates, but this set never drags like a history lesson. It keeps moving from peak to peak, spending the first disc on early triumphs from the Delfonics ("La-La -- Means I Love You," "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)"), Joe Simon ("Drowning in the Sea of Love"), the O'Jays ("Back Stabbers"), the Spinners ("I'll Be Around"), Billy Paul ("Me and Mrs. Jones") and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes ("If You Don't Know Me by Now"), the songs that established the Philly Sound, then giving way to the glory days documented on the second disc, which opens with the O'Jays' "Love Train" and closes with "T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)," the singles that helped cement the Philly sound on a broader scale. The third disc finds Gamble & Huff and Bell expanding their lush signature, ushering in disco with singles like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "Don't Leave Me This Way," then the fourth disc charts the aftermath through the Spinners' "The Rubberband Man," Lou Rawls' "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mind," and Deniece Williams' "It's Gonna Take a Miracle." Although there are assorted lesser-known singles scattered throughout the box, this is by design hits-heavy, which is how it should be, as this showcases a body of work -- and as this superb set proves, Gamble & Huff's body of work ranks among the strongest popular music of the 20th century. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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