Throughout the 1970's the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia was laying tracks for a unique new sound upon which the 'soul train' would begin its in initial journey that would steam through the decade and find a permanent place in music history. Thanks to the creativity and talent of keyboardist Bob Baldwin, the enduring and much loved Philly Soul vibes are back, and the tracks are rumbling yet again. Betcha By Golly Wow: The Songs Of Thom Bell is Baldwin's tribute to many of the greatest hits of the era, written, produced/arranged by the legendary Thom Bell. For those who aren't as familiar with his name, Bell assisted songwriter/producer legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in creating the Philadelphia soul sound. Bell's credits and work mostly include soul classics by the Spinners, Stylistics, and Delfonics, whose songs are brought to life again by Baldwin and a magnificent ensemble of smooth artists.
Baldwin and his distinguished list of musicians and vocalists go to great lengths in their interpretations of many timeless Thom Bell soul classics. He immediately opens the vault with the help of Rippington's guitar great Russ Freeman for a bright and up tempo spin on Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and integrates some psychedelic soul with the assistance of Paul Brown on the semi-novelty Spinners hit The Rubberband Man which could be considered the groove-filled 'sleeper hit' of the album. Will Downing, who has effortlessly integrated the Philly Soul sound into much of his own music, provides the beautifully rich vocals for the Stylistics' Break Up To Make Up, which takes on a slightly more sombre tone than the original, but eminates a deep dynamic sound that is complimented by Gerald Albright's soul stirring saxophone magic. Singer Vivian Green couldn't have been a better choice for Baldwin to recruit on another Delfonics hit La-La Means I Love You as she is extremely impressive with her soft and slightly raspy tones and shows us how her range can go from sultry to powerful in a matter of seconds. The title song and cover of the Stylistics hit has great production value to it and singer Toni Redd demonstrates one of the heartiest and powerful voices I've heard in a while, but there are times when the vocals become slightly overbearing and screechy for what is remembered as a smooth and gentle classic. Saxophonist Marion Meadows is his typical best accompanying Baldwin's piano and chorus line vocals on the ever popular and often remade I'll Be Around, and reappears later on the disc for the cover of Stylistics' People Make The World Go Round.
Betcha By Golly Wow: The Songs Of Thom Bell may have one small flaw in that the electric bass and drums truly don't compare to the original lush production of the original soul classics out of Philadelphia that we grew up loving and still embrace today. But Baldwin gets full credit on how he interprets the work of Thom Bell and pays homage to both him and the artists who continuously churned out classic soul hits during the 1970's and set the 'soul train' in motion for a remarkable and historic musical journey that we can still take a seat and ride a second time around. Baldwin reminds us again that a tribute album isn’t intended to simply duplicate the previous and original versions, but rather to take the music in a different direction without diminishing its historical value, essence and integrity.