Though the driving force of Bob Baldwin’s 20-plus years as a keyboardist, composer and musical innovator has been sparkling original songs that reflect the grooving, multi-cultural vibe he has trademarked as “New Urban Jazz,” he scored one of the biggest hits of his career in 2010 with Never Can Say Goodbye: A Tribute To Michael Jackson. Reflecting back on and celebrating an even earlier influence, Bob Baldwin Presents “Betcha By Golly Wow”: The Music of Thom Bell isa passionate homage to a legendary songwriter/producer whose songs were a key element in creating The Sound of Philadelphia. Baldwin co-produced many of the tracks with famed songwriter and producer Preston Glass, whose extensive resume includes Whitney Houston, Kenny G, Stanley Jordan, George Benson and Aretha Franklin.
Some 40 years after that Sound revolutionized the soul of R&B music, its sweet vibes, colorful textures and infectious grooves continue to enchant fans of many generations and artists and musicians from a multitude of genres. Though the legendary songwriting/production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are frequently credited as the architects of this sonic revolution, Bell—who moved to Philly from his native Jamaica as a child—left an indelible legacy of his own on the era via classic hits by The Spinners, The Stylistics, The Delfonics and others; many of these were co-writes with the late lyricist Linda Creed, whose indelible phrases like “mere words cannot explain” (from “You Make Me Feel Brand New”), “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “I’m Stone in Love With You” and “People Make The World Go Round” (all Stylistics recordings) are woven into the fabric of our collective pop/soul memories.
Baldwin has touched on a few gems from Bell’s rich catalog over the course of his 15 recordings, and here includes a new take of “People Make The World Go Round” (originally recorded on Cool Breeze) to reflect the overall production vibe he takes to the new project (which includes two originals, the easy grooving “Gonna Be Sweeter” and the tribute piece “Bell and Creed.” He leaves intact his remake of “Break Up To Make Up” from singer Will Downing’s 1993 collection Love’s The Place To Be featuring Baldwin and saxophonist Gerald Albright. Guest stars abound, including guitarist Russ Freeman (on a seductive twist of “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” R&B singer Vivian Green (“La La Means I Love You”), guitarist Paul Brown (adding some old school wah-wah to the funkified Spinners revamp, “The Rubberband Man”) and saxman Paul Taylor, who adds whimsy via his soprano to the lush “You’re As Right As Rain.” It’s also nice to hear the Atlanta based Baldwin introduce a great new singer from his adopted hometown, Toni Redd, who makes the title track “Betcha By Golly Wow” a rich emotional experience. Older soul fans may recognize the arrangement as the one the late Phyllis Hyman did with Norman Connors in the mid-70s.
Baldwin says of the project: “Whether it’s instrumentals or vocal variations, Thom Bell’s music soars and will live forever. It’s an honor being a part of it.” Fans of Baldwin and the classics of Bell will feel that same sense of privilege listening to this beautiful collection.