Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes: To Be True (Expanded Edition)

Stone-cold Philly Soul classic gets the reissue treatment, complete with bonus tracks and thorough liner notes.
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
To Be True (Expanded Edition)

By the time they released 1975’s To Be True, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were riding high on the success of the Philadelphia soul explosion ushered in by their producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Their third release in as many years and one of two released in 1975, To Be True found the group furthering their highly emotive brand of smooth soul to great effect, while also becoming poised as a launching pad for one of the genre’s most iconic voices in Teddy Pendergrass. It’s no coincidence that he is not only front and center on the album, but also listed on the marquee as being a featured member of the group. Within a year, he would be on his own, set to record and release a string of his own chart-topping releases.

But in 1975, Pendergrass was still very much a member of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and To Be True is all the better for this. With Gamble and Huff behind the boards, the MFSB players providing instrumental backing and the group assembled to record at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, the pair’s golden touch continued to thrive as three of the album’s singles headed into the upper reaches of the R&B charts. “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon”, a Gamble and Huff original, proved the album’s biggest hit, reaching number one on the R&B charts. A smooth soul ballad of the highest order, “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” was notable also for the presence of Sharon Paige’s velvety smooth vocals paired with Melvin’s grittier baritone, not to mention it being one of the few tracks on the album not to feature Pendergrass on lead vocals.

And while the group was still ostensibly just that, To Be True was the first time rising star Teddy Pendergrass received co-billing, the album being credited to “Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass”. Only 24 years old at the time, Pendergrass was nearly as old as the group itself, it having entered its 21st year of recording and performing in 1975, and his presence arguably signaled the pinnacle of the group’s success and scope of influence. Opening with an impassioned blast of uptempo soul in “Where Are All My Friends”, Pendergrass finds himself front and center, clearly becoming the star of the show and proving his worth with each lead.

Relying more on the iconic Philly soul smooth ballad than uptempo R&B numbers, To Be True could well be viewed as the prototypical Gamble/Huff release both in terms of the overall sound and the album’s thematic content. Sharing compositional duties with Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, Gamble & Huff turned in a trio of stone cold smooth soul classics in the searching title cut, “Hope That We Can Get Together Soon” and the heartbreakingly gorgeous ballad “Somewhere Down the Line”. The latter features gloriously smooth harmonies throughout, something largely lacking from the remainder of the album which seemed to serve more as a feature for Pendergrass’ soon-to-be iconic impassioned take on bedroom soul.

Now, some 40 years later, To Be True (Expanded Edition) tacks on a handful of singles edits and alternate mixes. This has long been a tried and true approach in the reissue market and, in general, provides a mildly pleasant addition to an already stellar release. To Be True is no exception. The bonus tracks are of a piece with the album tracks and add little to the overall narrative, but the liner notes help shed light on the atmosphere in which the album was conceived and recorded. And for those who already own the album, this will be the real draw. Everyone else would be well suited to check it out for the original album itself, one of the definitive statements in Philly Soul and a nearly unimpeachable classic in every way.

RATING 8 / 10