The Dells – 1970 – Like it is, Like it was
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A beautiful album of soul tracks that has the Dells performing a number of new tracks (“Like It Is”), and doing new versions of some old favorites (“Like It Was”), with swirling baroque production by Charles Stepney that transforms the older ones into nice new tracks with a great late-60s Cadet sound.
A pretty schizoid album, pairing ‘neo-doowop’ tracks on side A with more traditional material on its flip. Seeing as this was released in 1970, and looking at the funky cover art, I’d expected a little more grit ‘n’ groove here.
“I’m Not Afraid of Tomorrow” is superb, a delightful uptempo Chi-Soul romper featuring McGill’s baritone wailings at its best. Beautiful string arrangements here, and some vicious horns as well.
“Oh, What a Day” sounds like a fun if inessential re-do of The Dells’ first hit, “Oh, What a Night” (1956). The doo-woppy atmos here really ain’t my bag, but then again, I never did like doo-wop, period. It works much better on the deliciously struttin’ “Come Out, Come Out“, where the vibe is significantly more funky. “Open Up My Heart” remains in ‘traditional’ territory, a fine, silky smooth ballad with more harmony vocalizing.
The B-side sees the Dells taking on well-known chestnuts, and while executed beautifully, to my mind it sometimes veers too much to show-tuney schmaltz. McGill injects the mid-tempo, flute dominated “Darling, Dear” with a much-needed dosage of grit. “Since I Fell for You“, a R&B-staple, does feature a Isaac Hayes-ian spoken intro by bass singer Chuck Clarksdale, and another wonderful, raspy lead vocal by McGill, but the instrumentation is a bit too syruppy for my taste.
“Nadine” (not the Chuck Berry classic, but the doo-wop hit by ’50s outfit The Coronets) is a virtual carbon copy of the 1953 original. Once more, it’s McGill’s passionate lead that keeps me interested.
A take on Lee Andrews’ “Long, Lonely Nights” seems to finally kick up the beat a bit, but after a short soulful vamp, it too turns out to be a traditionally arranged, slow, doo-wop excursion.
Finally, there’s a luscious reading of “Off Shore“, complete with the sound of squawking seagulls in the intro, which does picks up the pace. A delightful, mid-tempo funky groove with meaty bass chops and more upfront drumming.
A great LP, to be sure, but for those of us into Mama Earth’s rawer goodies, it’s a bit too slick.
Two more albums of The Dells in our back pages here.