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A House on Fire: the Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul.

A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul by John A. Jackson Oxford University Press, October 2004 $35, ISBN 0-195-14972-6

There are a few questions that come about as the result of the title of John A. Jackson's new book. The first question is, Did Philadelphia Soul actually fall? Patti LaBelle recorded steadily from the '60s through the '90s, and she is still recording new stuff. Isn't she a soul singer? Has she ever taken a fall?

The book's title doesn't consider the current crop of soul singers out of Philadelphia, such as Jill Scott, Musiq, Vivian Green, Jaguar Wright, The Jazzy fatnastees, Boys II Men, or Kindred: The Family Soul. Some folks might call this neosoul, but soul is soul. Perhaps after interviewing everyone at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios, Jackson should have taken a trip down to Jazzy Jeff's studios on Third Street. Singers like Eryka Badu, Floetry, the Roots and others are drawn to the Touch of Jazz studios to write and record.

A better title for the book would have been The Rise and Fall of Philadelphi, International Records because that seems to be the book's main focus. The author does a beautiful job of chronicling PIR in the book. He even covers the groups that rarely get a mention when talking about PIR groups: The People's Choice, The Salsoul Orchestra and Yellow Sunshine.

You actually feel that you are right in the studio witnessing their creative processes. Music fans will enjoy the way the author intertwines PIR with Detroit's Motown, Memphis's Stax Volt, and the sounds coming out of Chicago, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The book does have a dark edge, exposing the shady business deals, tales of payola, and personal dramas. Perhaps the most startling revelation in the book is that most of the PIR singing groups did not shag their own back-groined vocals. Female voices and other studio singers were added and in some cases, such as with The Spinners, The Stylistics, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, only the lead singers were actually used on the records. The background voices came from other studio singers (The Sweethearts of Sigma, First Choice, Bunny Sigler, Carl Helm and others) who could actually sing.

Conspicuous by their absence in the book are Frankie Beverly and Raw Soul (who later became Maze), The Futures, The Ambassadors, Fat Larry's Band, and Sister Sledge, all whom made significant contributions to the music that came out of Philadelphia during the '70s and '80s.

But Jackson includes a song list in Appendix 1 that is worth the price of the book alone. The list will take you a few hours to actually read, because you will find yourself singing every other song as the memories come floating back.

Anthony C. Davis is a writer in Philadelphia.
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Author:Davis, Anthony C.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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