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Soul Express Classic Soul CD of the Month - November 2008

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Teddy Pendergrass
US Philadelphia International / Sony BMG, 2008
The original release on Philadelphia International, 1977
1) You Can't Hide From Yourself 2) Somebody Told Me 3) Be Sure 4) And If I Had (Aka Someone To Love Me) 5) I Don't Love You Anymore 6) The Whole Town's Laughing At Me 7) East, East, Got To Take It Easy 8) The More I Get, the More I Want

Produced by Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff; John Whitehead, Gene McFadden & Victor Carstarphen; Sherman Marshall

There couldn’t have been a more favourable environment for Teddy’s debut than Gamble & Huff and Philadelphia International Records. They had worked with Teddy for years and knew what they wanted to do with him. Teddy appreciated the fact that music came first for Gamble & Huff and that they varied their production style to suit the artist they were working with, and not vice versa. As Teddy put it, they had a rare gift of artistry combined with killer commercial instinct.

Of course these guys, Gamble & Huff, John Whitehead, Gene McFadden, Victor Carstarphen, Sherman Marshall (and later Thom Bell and Dexter Wansel), arrangers like Bobby Martin and Jack Faith and all the brilliant musicians did so much amazing stuff over the years that even this album, wonderful as it is, is just one of their achievements. Still, I think the whole lot of them should be knighted for this album alone. The level of musicianship is impeccable throughout and the abundance of tasty nuances in the production and arrangements is incredible.

The Gamble & Huff produced debut single, I Don’t Love You Anymore, hit # 7 on the R&B charts and was an impressive showcase for the album. After a brief percussive interlude, it quickly gets to the point and proceeds as a dynamically rolling piece of uptempo soul with an overall musical atmosphere that is decidedly uplifting despite the lyrics. I especially like the part where Teddy adds some typically rough and emotional ad libs over a tinkling piano and guitar picking. The McFadden, Whitehead & Carstarphen production, The More I Get, the More I Want, is a similar hard-driving percussive uptempo track with an insistent bassline. The opening track You Can’t Hide from Yourself is even more relentless with its rock-solid backing and horn riffs that hit you like a boxer hits a heavy bag. The way Gamble & Huff have combined the funk elements with the solid tune and Teddy’s rough’n rugged vocals is simply wonderful.

These three dynamite uptempo tunes are all brilliant, but, amazingly enough, the slow material is even more impressive. My number one choice would have to be Somebody Told Me, and this is despite the fact that the religious lyrics are totally irrelevant to me. A song of many layers, it starts with just a touch of percussion and a guitar introducing the melody, then Teddy’s gentle voice utters the sublime chorus line, the rhythm kicks in, Teddy adds a little stamina, the dramatic strings emerge, there’s an angelic choir, and little by little Teddy kicks his majestic voice into full gear. And so it goes on evolving, with something constantly happening. There’s subtlety, there’s strength and conviction. A true masterpiece and one of my all-time favourite tunes.

Then there’s the second single (R&B # 16), the instantly captivating yet profound ballad composition The Whole Town’s Laughing at Me. Of course, the arrangement is again faultless, but the tune itself is the main attraction for me. Why is it so good? I really couldn’t tell. Why is it that a Beatles tune that millions of people worship makes me want to vomit, but this one touches my soul? I have no idea, and to tell you the truth I prefer it that way.

As the final addition to my personal top three, I would have to single out Easy, Easy, Got to Take It Easy. The swaying rhythm instantly creates a carefree atmosphere and within seconds the melody and Teddy’s interpretation grab your full attention. The lyrics and overall feel are purely carnal, yet this in no way diminishes the musical value of this wonderful soul floater.

What’s left? And If I Had starts in an almost cinematic atmosphere with dramatic touches of sax and guitar, and Teddy seems charged with contained emotion. Towards the end, with the background singers and the typical passionate finale, the song starts to sound more like a typical R&B ballad, and the end result is quite fascinating. The easy-going swayer Be Sure seemed to me the most ordinary outing, but as an album filler it is perfectly fine, particularly considering Teddy’s typically inspired interpretation.

A classic album.
- Petteri Ruotsalainen

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