Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For many old-timers, soul music died when its Southern branch withered at the end of the '60s. But as disco came on, Philadelphia produced a variant of its own, Philly soul. Now, it's been revived.

And our music critic, Robert Christgau thinks this version is pretty credible for a revival.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: They're billed as The Legendary Three Tenors of Soul. William Hart of The Delfonics, born 1945, signature hit, 1968's "La-La Means I Love You." Ted Mills of Blue Magic, born 1947, signature hit, 1974's "Sideshow." Russell Thompkins Jr. of The Stylistics, born 1951, signature hit, 1972's "Betcha By Golly Wow." All three are from Philly. And here's the title song especially composed by Philadelphians Darrell Hall and John Oates for their new album.

(Soundbite of song "All The Way From Philadelphia")

THE THREE TENORS OF SOUL (Singers): (Singing) All the way from Philadelphia, I hear what's wrong and it brings me back to you, taking me home, taking me home.

CHRISTGAU: Blue Magic hung it up after a sad attempt to disco album in 1995. But The Delfonics and The Stylistics both have recent live CDs out. The Delfonics' members carefully cover renowned contemporaries like Al Green and The Temptations, while The Stylistics stick to their own deeper catalogue. But the new supergroup album, overseen by veteran Philly Sound guitarist Bobby Eli, avoids such obvious oldies.

(Soundbite of "Too Much Love")

THE THREE TENORS OF SOUL: (Singing) Nobody gets too much heaven no more. It's much harder to come by. I'm waiting in line. Nobody gets too much love anymore. It's as high as a mountain and harder to climb.

CHRISTGAU: "Too Much Love" sure sounds like a harmony-group chestnut - you can almost place it, and it is, only the harmony group is the Bee Gees in 1979, well after the Legendary Tenors' pop run ended. The lead goes to The Stylistics' Russell Thompkins, still the greatest of these singers, even if he is less creamy three decades on, just as Blue Magic's Ted Mills is slightly less supple.

Here's Mills on "Fantasy," a hit for Earth, Wind and Fire in 1977.

(Soundbite of song "Fantasy")

Mr. TED MILLS (Vocalist, Blue Magic): (Singing) Every man has a place. In his heart, there's a space. And this world can't erase his fantasies.

Perhaps it's occurred to you that a more accurate sobriquet for these artists might be Legendary Three Falsettos of Soul. That's why the more conventional tenor, William Hart, never gets a full lead here. Rock guys used to think falsetto groups were silly, but that's because rock guys have trouble letting go of their macho. The Stylistics and Blue Magic voiced a transcendent tenderness, never raunchy like the great falsetto Prince. And it's a gift to hear their style of spiritual intensity renewed. Love Men, soul falsettos are often called. But on this album, they embody other kinds of human fellowship as well.

(Soundbite of song "That's What Friends Are For")

THE THREE TENORS OF SOUL: (Singing) In good times, in bad times, I'll be by your side forevermore. That's what friends are for, yeah.

BLOCK: The new album from the Three Tenors of Soul is called "All The Way From Philadelphia." Our critic, Robert Christgau, is a contributing editor with Rolling Stone magazine.

(Soundbite of song "That's What Friends Are For")

THE THREE TENORS OF SOUL: (Singing) And now there's so much more I see. And so, by the way, I thank you. And then, for the times when we were apart…

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.