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THE O'JAYS: – Together We Are One
(US Right Stuff / Philadelphia International, 2004)
All Eyes On Africa - Together We Are One - Your Place Or Mine - I Know What You're Doing (But I'm Too Scared To Do Something About It) - Ruler Of The Universe - Pretty Is As Pretty Does (Just Too Pretty For Words) - Promises - When Sunny Gets Blue - Just Don't Seem To Be My Day - Packin' My Bags (Movin' On) - Hurry Home - This Could Be The Last Time

As an album it is an interesting concept. These are all tracks that were hidden in the vaults, recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia between 1974 and 1999. What has happened is that Philly stalwarts, Kenneth Gamble, Dexter Wansel and Bunny Sigler, have come in and remixed and updated the songs. Eddie Levert, Sr and Walter Williams have, according to some websites, been working through the courts to have the release and distribution CD stopped. This failed, allegedly, as the court believed it was the record company that had the rights to the material and not the artists. I do not know how true this is, and if it is then the gentlemen will not be happy that this has been released.
For that alone I am sorry, but on a personal note and a fan of THEM I am very happy that Gamble & Huff went ahead and released this excellent compilation.  Only a few songs on here are not to my personal taste, and some songs are plainly excellent and are shining examples of Philadelphia International at its best.  What is odd is the distinct merge of 70s, 80s and 90s styles with a 2004 twist.  So it is both classic and new all at the same time. 
You will have to listen to these songs carefully, but none I think showcase this better than "Ruler Of The Universe" and "Promises".  Quite remarkable.  My choices are as follows, and I think that you too will like them.  I start with the superb 1985 composition "Your Place Or Mine" which is classic, classic, classic O'Jays and why this was not included on the "Love Fever" LP I do not know.  This gentle pacer has some great real instruments on display and some superbly 80s keyboard touches from Bryant Pugh.  This Kenny Gamble, Reggie Griffin and Bunny Sigler tune is just a breath of fresh air. 
Another 80s effort is "I Know What You're Doing (But I'm Too Afraid To Do Something About It)" - this quality cut was originally recorded in 1982 and to me would sit perfectly on their "Love And More" album.  I have already mentioned "Ruler Of The Universe" briefly.  This 1975 Gamble & Huff production is fully supported by MFSB and updated and re-produced by Dexter Wansel.  This is MANDATORY.  I love this song to death and I have sat here sadly reflecting on this style of music, after previously reading BET's web pages…today's scene is very sad and unhealthy and they should be highlighting THIS CD and not the evil rap music they so adore.  What gives here?  BLACK AMERICA WAKE UP.  If only I were ruler of the universe, I can tell you … Anyway, enough of that.  It just hurts that no-one will ever make, or be allowed to make such beautiful music.
1986 spawned some classy material from Philly, and "Pretty Is As Pretty Does (Just Too Pretty For Words)" is from the same mould as contemporary albums from Shirley Jones and Phyllis Hyman.  Sure is a pretty song, too.  The song I bought this CD for is a beautiful Thom Bell production from 1977, and is written by Bell & James.  The snippet (all 30 seconds of it) hinted strongly at the classic Spinners / Stylistics sound, but this is not completely like that but this is still a great, great Thom Bell song that I have had on repeat play over and over again.  Bunny Sigler's 1974 song "Just Don't Seem To Be My Day" is a typical well-crafted Bunny Sigler song and its narrative is underpinned by a gospel styled piano and chorus. 
I've had worse days than this, old boy, but I couldn't put it to music as well as they do!  The real surprise for me was "Packin' My Bags (Movin' On)" which I had believed was a song made in the mid 1970s … but this was written, recorded and produced in 1999!!!  Bunny Sigler is again to thank for this SUPERB song.  Breathtaking Philly Soul for today.
Finally, "Hurry Home" is a classy ballad from 1977 with Dexter Wansel's subtle but effective 2004 treatment.  This is one hell of an album and I for one am thankful that this CD saw the light of day.  UNMISSABLE.

- Barry Towler

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