Tuesday, 28 August 2012

“360 Degrees Of Billy Paul” by BILLY PAUL (2012 Big Break Records (BBR) 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster With Three Bonus Tracks) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Got A Thing Going On..."

As a voracious collector of old-skool Soul and Funk (and reviewer of the same) - I've been singing the praises of England's BIG BREAK RECORDS for some time now. I recently reviewed their beautifully remastered reissue of Bill Wither's 1971 debut LP "Just As I Am" with "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands" on it - and I thought it couldn't get any better. Well blow me down with a front-cover triple-image of a porkpie hat - but they've done it again...

This August 2012 UK CD reissue (September 2012 in the USA) on Big Break Records CDBBR 0175 (Barcode 5013929047532) remasters Billy Paul's 1972 Philly nugget "360 Degrees Of Billy Paul" and adds on 3 relevant bonus cuts. Here are the Jones (60:49 minutes):

1. Brown Baby
2. I'm Just A Prisoner
3. It's Too Late
4. Me And Mrs. Jones
5. Am I Black Enough For You?
6. Let's Stay Together
7. Your Song
8. I'm Gonna Make It This Time
The vinyl LP of "360 Degrees Of Billy Paul" was originally released in November 1972 in the USA on Philadelphia International KZ 31793 and Epic Records EPC 65351 in the UK (later re-issued on Philadelphia International S PIR 65930).

9. Me And Mrs. Jones (Live)
10. Am I Black Enough For You (Single Version)
11. Me And Mrs. Jones (Single Version)

This CD will allow fans to sequence the following 7" singles that were issued around the LP:
1. Me And Mrs. Jones [11] b/w Your Song [7] - issued October 1972 in the USA on Philadelphia International ZS7 3521 and January 1973 in the UK on Epic EPC 1055
2. Am I Black Enough For You [10] b/w I'm Gonna Make It This Time [8] - issued March 1973 in the USA on Philadelphia International ZS7 3526 (no UK release)
3. Brown Baby b/w It's Too Late [3] - issued April 1973 in the UK on Epic Records S EPC 1313
[Note: the UK single of "Brown Baby" was a 3:19 minute edit (the album cut is 4:36 minutes) and unfortunately isn't included on here]

Remastered by NICK ROBBINS at Sound Mastering in London with additional work done by Big Break's own WAYNE A. DICKSON - the sound quality is GORGEOUS - full, warm and just a joy to listen too after years of bad budget compilations. The 12-page booklet features knowledgeable liner notes by ANDY KELLMAN with many contributions from Billy Paul himself - along with photos of those American and UK 45 singles - the album's artwork etc. It's a typically classy job by BBR...

The Music - written by the dynamic duo Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff "Me And Mrs. Jones" was a monster hit (lyrics above) and put Billy Paul on the number one spot in droves of countries around the world (including the single and album Soul charts in his own USA). But how nice it is to hear the FULL ALBUM VERSION at 4:46 minutes as opposed to the more commonly used 7" single edit of 3:41 minutes. And it sounds amazing too.

The on-the-money commentary of "Brown Baby" is a very strong socially aware opener but it's trumped by the magnificent 8-minutes of "I'm Just A Prisoner". Billy Paul's stepfather had done 5 years in prison but emerged to work his way up in business and then mentor the young hopeful in his musical ambitions. Paul never forgot this - so even though label stalwarts Kenneth Gamble, Bunny Sigler and Phillip Hurtt wrote the song - it contains some of Paul's most personal lyrics. The song feels like Marvin Gaye's "Right On" from his 1971 "What's Going On" masterpiece in its hypnotic groove and features brilliantly arranged strings by organist and orchestration maestro Lenny Pakula. There are touches of Donny Hathaway, Herbie Hancock and The Isley Brothers all in there too - and for me it's one of the highlights of this reissue...

There are three cleverly reworked cover versions - a jazzed-up take on Carole King's "It's Too Late" from her magisterial "Tapestry" album, a completely re-worked fast and funky go at Elton John's "Your Song" (which Elton loved) and a very slowed down love-song angle on Al Green's slinky classic "Let's Stay Together" with lovely Norman Harris arrangements. The album ends of what he admits should have been the follow up to "Jones" - "I'm Gonna Make It This Time" (written by Bunny Sigler and Jean Lang). It's as romantic-Philly as the label gets - all plinking piano, strings and heartache vocals. Even the live version of "Me And Mrs. Jones" which is clearly in front of a British audience is excellent and I can see why it was included.

To sum up - great stuff - and such an enjoyable rediscovery. Recommended like a 6:30 meeting with Mrs. Jones in the Lurve Café - you naughty boy...

PS: Big Break Records (BBR) CD Remasters I’ve reviewed to 2015:
1. Is It Still Good To Ya – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1978)
2. Stay Free – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1979)
3. Central Heating – HEATWAVE (1977)
4. Hot Property - HEATWAVE (1979)
5. Candles - HEATWAVE (1980)
6. Turnin' On - HIGH INERGY (1977)
7. Harvest For The World - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1976)
8. Go For Your Guns - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1977)
9. In The Heart – KOOL & THE GANG (1983)
10. I Hope We Get To Love On Time - MARILYN McCOO & BILLY DAVIS (1976)
11.  I Miss You - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1972) [known as "Harold Melvin The Blue Notes" in the UK]
12. Black & Blue - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1973)
13. Love Is The Message - MFSB (1973)
14. Universal Love – MFSB (1975)
15. All The Faces Of... - BUDDY MILES (1974)
16. For The First Time – STEPHANIE MILLS (1975)
17. I Can See Clearly Now - JOHNNY NASH (1972)
18. In Philadelphia - O'JAYS (1969)
19. Back Stabbers - O'JAYS (1972)
20. Ship Ahoy - O'JAYS (1973)
21. Down To Love Town – THE ORIGINALS (1977)
22. Ebony Woman - BILLY PAUL (1970 and 1973)
23. 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul - BILLY PAUL (1972)
24. War Of The Gods - BILLY PAUL (1973)
25. Platinum Hook – PLATINUM HOOK (1978)
26. Love For What It Is - ANITA POINTER (of The Pointer Sisters) (1987)
27. Live: Stompin’ At The Savoy – RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN (1983)
28. Summernights – SILVER CONVENTION (1977)
29. Smoked Sugar - SMOKED SUGAR (1975)
30. Spinners – SPINNERS (1973)
31. Soul Master – EDWIN STARR (1968)
32. Involved - EDWIN STARR (1971)
33. Switch - SWITCH (1978)
34 Watercolors – THE WATERS (1980)
35. Just As I Am - BILL WITHERS (1971 Debut LP on Sussex/A&M Records)
36. Heartbeats – YARBROUGH & PEOPLES (1983)

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