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  In Philadelphia, former capital of the United States, in Center City they have an historic neighbourhood named after the 17th-century Society of Free Traders, an association of elite merchants.  It’s been a gentrification playground for urban planners and today the area is known by the name of Society Hill.

  Society Hill Records is a bit younger phenomenon.  This company was founded almost forty years ago, and this is what Butch Ingram told me about it back in 2014.   Butch: “I am the sole owner of Society Hill Records, and the label was started in 1979.  Today the sale of music is gone.  We are hanging in there, although sales are very slow.  People download everything free, but the artist still has to have product out, so we will always be producing and recording music.  We need more tours and appearances for our artists.” 

  Indeed, Society Hill Records keep constantly coming up with new material and among those dozens and dozens of artists they’ve recorded over the years there are many former well-known Philly luminaries.  Usually Butch himself is the producer and arranger – also a prolific writer – and the rest of the Ingram Family Band form the live rhythm section: Butch on bass, Jimmy on keyboards, Billy on guitar, Johnny on drums and Timmy on percussion.  With background vocalists and “The Society Hill Orchestra” the sound is generally good and rich.

  Most of the Society Hill CDs reviewed below were released already in the first half of this year and since they’ve lost some of their topicality I’m not going to be too particular in my reviews this time.  There are also a couple of links to my past interviews with some of the artists featured on those records.


  Subtitled “a tribute to Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff”, these two volumes are re-recordings of some of Philly’s most memorable hits.  Mostly produced by Butch, The Sound of Philadelphia I & II are compilations drawn from many Society Hill releases from recent years.  Arrangements are for the most part quite true to the original recordings, so biggest differences can be found in vocal approaches.  And there’s no avoiding comparing these covers to the originals, no matter what.  It’s the little record player in your head that you can’t switch off.

  On Volume One (942 326 816-2; 68 min.) the ones who get my vote for best vocal performances are the People’s Choice on Me and Mrs. Jones, Jean Carne feat. Michael Upshaw on Hope that We Can Be Together Soon and David Beasley’s Fabulous Ebonys on the revival of It’s Forever (  Also Tony Strong comes vocally very close to the late Sam “Little Sonny” Brown of the Intruders on Together (

  The Illusions on Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby sound still satisfactory - although they’re no O’Jays -  (, but Johnny Flash can’t touch Teddy on You’re My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration, and I can’t get used to Sugarbear’s voice as the lead of the Legendary Bluenotes on The Love I LostThe Three Degrees’ cover of When Will I See You Again and Third World’s Now that We Found Love come from outside of the Ingram family.

  On Volume Two (73 min.), some of the songs are less familiar, not so instantly recognizable.  Outside productions here are Arthur Prysock’s 1976 hit on Old Town, When Love Is New, and the Three Degrees’ revival of Dirty Ol’ Man.  Listening to Butch’s protégés, again I give applause to Jean Carne (Don’t Let It Go to Your Head), but refuse to put my hands together for Johnny Flash (Don’t Leave Me This Way).  These two volumes are ideal for true Philly soul fans, who wish to dive into nostalgia or just listen to varied versions of their long-time favourites. 


  Jazzy Ladies of Society Hill Records (942 326 792-2; 51 min.) is my favourite of the lot this time.  For me it’s just irresistible, when you combine classy lady singers with impeccable sense of timing and expressive vocal style with smooth and sophisticated, jazz-infused music. 

  Again drawn from a number of previously released CDs, this set is filled with gentle ballads.  They are either tender and almost contemplative like Carla Benson’s I Close My Eyes, which is a big favourite of hers (, and Roz Ryan’s Waiting for My Lover, or simply dreamy and pretty like Brandi WellsI Love You, Barbara Mason’s and Wardell Piper’s I’m So in Love with You

  Some ballads may sound MORish (Bobbi Walker) - even like a show-tune (Coretta Davis) - or they simply decided to borrow a tested chestnut - Good Morning Heartache for Vicki Austin.  Among the four mid-tempo toe-tappers, the most melodic and Philly-ist is the poppy One Last Memory by Vanessa Farley.  This song was recorded also by Impact in 1976 and was scheduled for Dionne Warwick’s Track of the Cat album (produced by Thom Bell) one year earlier, but was released only almost forty years later.  Still once again I must praise the ever-elegant Jean Carne and her swinging interpretation of Give it up.  If you’re not familiar with those earlier CDs, this set comes highly recommended.


  Barbara Jane Ingram (1947-1994) was one of the Sweethearts of Sigma along with Carla Benson and Evette Benton.  In the sleevenotes to Philadelphia Sweetheart (942 326 772-2) her early history is praiseworthy documented, especially the pre-Thom Bell period.

  This CD offers seven of her solo recordings, and the first five songs – She’s all Alone, Music Is the Message, Tried it and like it, What Else can I say, Someone’s on My Side - derive from The Ingram Kingdom album in 1976, and the last one is a beautiful duet with Ronnie Dyson called Let the Love Begin.  Only two uptempo tracks, personal favourites are the very soft and atmospheric She’s all Alone, the sweet Tried it and I like it – like a Stylistics song – and the inspirational and tender Spirit of Love, which Bobbi Walker has also recorded.  Beautiful music and, of course, vocally perfect!


  Again in the notes to Stand by Me – A Tribute to My Father, Ben E. King (942 326 829-2) the history of the artist is covered, including his days with a band called Prophecy and under the alias of Benidito, when he recorded Anything (You Want) in 1986.

  Now he has covered nine songs either from his father’s or the Drifters’ songbook, such unforgettable hits as Stand by Me, Save the Last Dance for Me, There Goes My Baby and Spanish Harlem.  Frankly, I don’t warm up to this.  The original recordings are so dear to me, and these covers are simply inferior.  Only on Some Kind of Wonderful he lets loose at the end of the song.  Butch Ingram wrote one original song, a beat-ballad called I Am King for Sonofa.

  Also Sonofa’s voice isn’t distinctive enough for my taste, so all in all I think this is one of those CDs that is created only for the artist to sell on his gigs.


  Better known as a background singer, CoCo has now released her debut EP called Move Closer (942 326 824-2), where she covers Phyllis Nelson’s sweet title ballad, Sade’s sensual Cherish the Day and a familiar Motown song called When I’m Gone.  Butch has written a mid-tempo toe-tapper named I’ve Got a Feeling, which is a duet with Edmund Daniels from 1992.  Professional and entertaining!

  Barbara Mason has covered her adultery ballad from 1978 on Prelude Records called I Am Your Woman, She Is Your Wife (# 14-soul), written by herself together with the late Weldon McDougal III.  Produced and arranged by Butch and recorded at Sigma Sound Studio, the Ingram Family provides the rhythm and Tru is on background vocals.  The outcome is smooth and soulful and Barbara’s singing is temptingly beautiful.

© Heikki Suosalo

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