Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Soul - The Manhattans

Although there are still quite a few big name soul artists whose music is still listened to and whose legacy has yet to fade, there are many, many more who are being left in dusty history books and whose music is being left behind. For some, who might have released a handful of 45 single, this isn’t so surprising. But for others like The Manhattans, there is simply no reason.

The group, in its original form as a quintet (over its history it’s gone through numerous line-up changes), first came together in 1964. The five members were friends from high school and after serving in various branches of the military they formed the band and signed to Carnival Records. Ever since then, The Manhattans have been making music, although with different members at various points. Forty-four years of musical history. Seems like ample enough reason for them not to be relegated to the bargain bins and forgotten.

In their career, The Manhattans have recorded with four different labels, and Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 is the first compilation to gather tracks from these various periods. Presented over the span of three discs, the collection’s thirty five tracks documents their musical evolution from the very beginning. Evolution is the key word here as it was the band’s ability to re-image itself and adapt to changes in musical movements that allowed the group to stay in the charts for three decades. In fact, they were one of the very few bands who were able to survive the fickle tastes of listening America. From early doo-wop / R&B, to the more symphonic smooth Philly soul of the 70’s, to the more modern R&B of the 80’s, the group was able to avoid growing stale while retaining their smooth and sweet trademark harmonies.

Disc one starts at the beginning and includes cuts from 1965 through 1973 which were put out on the Carnival, and later, Deluxe labels. Here is where you’ll find the mix of doo-wop and R&B of early developing soul music. Below is I Wanna Be (Your Everything), one of the group’s first singles and also the first track in the compilation.

Disc two closes out the 70’s and moves into their time at Columbia Records (as well as one last Deluxe straggler put out after the band’s migration). At this point, with the larger label’s support, they moved towards the smooth Philadelphia Sound with lush instrumental backdrops. You'll also pick up a Barry White vibe on some of these cuts. There’s a definite shift audibly visible between this material and the “older” feel of the material on disc one. On this disc you’ll find Kiss and Say Goodbye, a pop and R&B number one hit that the group released in 1976.

Disc three takes the group through the 80’s and ends with I Don’t Stop, from 1990. At the very end of the decade, the group left Columbia and moved to the smaller Valley Vue label, who picked up many homeless classic R&B artists at a time when the market didn’t care so much about legends (Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, etc…). This final disc opens with Shining Star (absolutely no relation to the Earth, Wind, & Fire song by the same name), their second top ten hit in 1980. Soul aficionados might have trouble moving into these final fifteen tracks, as there is a clear smooth, modern 80’s R&B groove going on here which might be too top 40 radio to digest, but it’s essential when considering the band’s complete development.

There’s a lot of music here for the price, music that you’d have to buy a couple handfuls of albums to compile on your own. Also essential are liner notes outlining the band’s entire history from this long period. I’ve included cuts below from each of the discs to give you a flavor of the band’s evolution. Enjoy the appetizer and then order the whole thing (or add it to your Christmas list) for yourself.

The Manhattans - I Wanna Be (Your Everything) : Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 (disc 1)

The Manhattans - Kiss And Say Goodbye : Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 (disc 2)

The Manhattans - Let Your Love Come Down : Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 (disc 3)

Visit their website, the compilation's label Shout! Factory, and become their friend on MySpace.

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