Tuesday, 28 July 2015

"Universal Love" by MFSB (2015 Big Break Records Expanded CD – Nick Robbins and Wayne A. Dickson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...My Mood..."

In April 1975 (with the Vietnam War officially declared over by President Ford) – the last troops left Saigon and America was ready to party and feel good. You can see this in the sleeve of June 1975's "Universal Love" by MFSB (MFSB was the in-house Soul Orchestra for Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International label). A sun rises on a vessel-less sea that has flowers of hope floating above it – a far cry from the cover art for MFSB's 2nd album "Love Is The Message" from December 1973 with its ugly skull soldier and atomic bomb explosion looming in the background (the self-titled debut album from April 1973 showed a syringe lying in a coffin - reflecting America’s inner-city slide into drugs). The largely instrumental "Universal Love" album contained sexy rhythms and warm sways totally capturing the National zeitgeist and catapulting it up to No.2 on the American R&B charts and an impressive No. 4 on the US Pop charts. This 2015 Expanded BBR CD is a great celebration of that warmly remembered summer record and here are the tender loving cares (with big strings and even bigger hairdos)...

UK released July 2015 – "Universal Love: Expanded CD Version" by MFSB on Big Break Records CDBBRX 0312 (Barcode 5013929061231) breaks down as follows (46:41 minutes):

1. Sexy
3. Human Machine
4. Love Has No Time Or Place
5. T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care) [Side 2]
6. Let's Go Disco
7. K-Jee
8. My Mood
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd studio album "Universal Love" – released June 1975 in the USA on Philadelphia International KZ 33158 and July 1975 in the UK on Philadelphia International S PIR 80410

9. Sexy (Single Version)
10. T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care) (Single Version)
11. Let's Go Disco (Promotional Single Version)
12. K-Jee (Single Version)

Four 7" singles were released in the UK and USA around the album and this BBR CD will allow fans to sequence 'most' of them as follows...
[9] = Track 9 on the CD:

1. Sexy [9] b/w Human Machine [3]
Released May 1975 in the USA on Philadelphia International ZS8 3567
Released July 1975 in the UK on Philadelphia International S PIR 3381
Notes: the A-side is a 7" single edit at 3:13 minutes, the album cut is 3:36 minutes. "Sexy" also turned up at a B-side to the January 1977 UK reissue 7" single of "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)" by MSFB on Philadelphia International S PIR 4888.

2. T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care) [10] b/w Love Has No Time Or Place
Released September 1975 in the USA on Philadelphia International ZS8 3576
Notes: the A-side is a 7" single edit at 3:20 minutes, the album cut is 3:44 minutes. The B-side "Love Has No Time Or Place" is also an edit at 3:30 minutes but unfortunately isn't included on this CD (the full album version runs to 6:21 minutes). There was no UK 7" issue.

3. Let's Go Disco [6] b/w My Mood [8]
3. Let's Go Disco (Album Version) [6] b/w (D.J. Short Version) [11]
Released September 1975 in the UK on Philadelphia International S PIR 3635. Only the Demo/Promo version had a 'D.J. Short Version' on the B-side running to 2:37 minutes instead of the album's 4:18 minutes on the A.

4. K-Jee [12] b/w My Mood [8]
Released March 1978 in the USA on Philadelphia International ZS8 3641
Released May 1978 in the UK on Philadelphia International S PIR 6287
Notes: the A-side is a single edit at 3:20 minutes while the album full version is 4:19 minutes – the B-side is the full album version at 4:15 minutes.

The CD comes in one of those round-corner jewel cases BBR seems to favour their reissues while the 16-page booklet features new liner notes by noted NYC-based Soul writer CHRISTIAN JOHN WIKANE. There’s detailed discussion on the sophistication of the album for the Disco genre and its popularity across all boards (including the Pop world) – all of it peppered with photos of those American Philadelphia International labels along with rare European picture sleeves and photos of the huge ensemble orchestra. But the big news (as ever with BBR) is a superb remaster by NICK ROBBINS and BBR's main tape man WAYNE A. DICKSON. Primarily an 8-track instrumental LP with vocals only on "Love Has No Time Or Place" and "Let's Go Disco" – the emphasis was always going to be on the orchestral swirls, guitar licks, bass slaps, brass punches and that high-hat rhythm. This CD sounds fabulous. If I was to single out one track that shows this it’s the gorgeous album finisher "My Mood" – an instrumental that sounds like easy-listening Bacharach taken to another Soulful level. I’ve had this on Philly compilations of old – but the audio off this beauty beats them all. Impressive...

Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff not surprisingly penned the two slick openers – the dancefloor friendly "Sexy" and "MFSB" (Mothers Fathers Sisters Brothers) and they sound fab. Ron Baker of the Salsoul Orchestra co-wrote "Human Machine" with Leon Huff and is a mid-tempo groove with great Steely Dan-ish guitar and keyboard flicks (feels like Disco all grown up and proud of itself). By the time you get to the six-minute "Love Has No Time Or Place" (written by Bruce Hawes and Cynthia Briggs) the group has reached a place of sophisticated excellence that is hard to resist – a perfect hybrid of Disco girl-vocals over George Benson Jazz guitar licks – all of it complimented by that shuffling Philly backbeat and the ever-present lush strings. It’s an impressive groove and frankly sexy too.

Side 2 opens with "T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care)" – a jazzy slide in gives way to pure Philly bop – all high-hats, wah-wah guitars, brass and strings. We get a bit Funk with "Let's Go Disco" where they sound like Kool & The Gang and "K-Jee" is cool too –but my poison has always been the masterful Gamble & Huff slink of "My Mood" – a stunning instrumental that feels the ultimate Easy Listening Jazz cool. I'm always putting it on Soul CD-R compilations in order to show off my Soul smarts and Street cred (oh dear)...

So there you have it – a wicked 2015 Expanded CD reissue for MFSB's "Universal Love" and with that crack-a-lacking Audio - a must own for fans everywhere. The only glitch is the absence of that 7" Single Edit of "Love Has No Time Or Place" (a bad mistake really) – but other than that slip up - this is another BBR audio winner - and well done to all the bods in Big Break Records who got it out into the public domain in such style...

PS: Big Break Records (BBR) CD Remasters I’ve reviewed up to July 2015:

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

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