In 2002 — and for six years following — Verve Records released a series of compilations entitled Verve Remixed, consisting of electro remixes of songs made famous by Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, James Brown, and the like. The remixes seemed like a tawdry way of getting a younger generation to listen to founding figures of blues and soul, and ultimately reduced these modifications of classic cuts to shopping mall muzak. When it comes to encouraging impressionable listeners to seek out past greats, Adrian Younge has taken a more effective path: Rather than remastering or remixing a classic artist’s greatest hits, he’s instead sought out that artist and has worked with them in creating a new and surprising release. Of course, such collaborations aren’t always possible, and this fact makes Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics even more of a pleasure than it already is.
Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics takes one of the Delfonics’ soulful trademarks (the dizzyingly high falsetto of William Hart) and redresses it in modern R&B finery — from slinky come ons to silky romanticism. Some less expected stylistic choices — such as the light psychedelic touches on “Lost Without You”–are added for good measure. All sonic updates refrain enough from current trends to risk sounding dated years from now. Whether it be Hart’s subject matter or Younge’s production decisions, the album sounds more like a lost classic from the ‘70s that’s still a thrill to spin than a bid for contemporary credibility. Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics also comes across as something of a portrait of the loving relationship between artist and producer. Hart’s subject matter hasn’t really changed since the Delfonics’ heyday; most songs on here concern love, yearning, or calling for peace. Although the subject matter is timeless, Younge’s production steps in when necessary to ensure these songs will still sound radical despite not feeling wholly modern. It’s a gamble, but it pays off continually.
The bareness of Hart’s vocals may not appeal to some, but this risk in particular really pays off in terms of uniqueness. Even when something like the Burt Bachrach-esque “So in Love with You” comes on, Hart’s delivery and the precision of the music make it sound far more fresh than it has any right to. The stunning opener “Stop and Look” may make the listener believe they’re in for a smooth and ballady ride, but before things get too comfortable, a song like “Enemies” — which has more bite than a lot of the songs that made the Delfonics famous — makes it well known that this is not an entirely soft and rosy affair.
The only real criticism I can throw at Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics concerns its title. The Delfonics’ original producer, Thom Bell, had a hand in establishing their initial Philly soul sound, but he never had the gall to title one of their releases Thom Bell Presents the Delfonics. Due to one of the original Delfonics, Randy Cain, being deceased, you can’t expect a reunion of the original line up; however, the easily misled may take the album as an out and out Delfonics comeback. If it leads the curious to checking out the Delfonics’ initial sound, new listeners may be a little thrown by the tender, easy-listening feel of the trio’s many winning songs. Whether or not Wax Poetics Presents William Hart would have been a better album title matters little in the end. However you package it, it’s not only better than the real thing; it’s better than much of what has come out thus far this year.