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Legendary 3 Tenors of Soul Revive with Style

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For many old-timers, soul music died when its Southern branch floundered at the end of the '60s. But as disco came on, Philadelphia produced a variant of its own, and now one of its sub-genres has been revived in credible fashion.

They're billed as The Legendary 3 Tenors of Soul and they're all from Philly: William Hart of The Delfonics, born 1945, and his signature hit "La-La Means I Love You" from 1968. There's Ted Mills of Blue Magic, born 1947, and his signature hit "Sideshow" from 1974. Finally, Russell Thompkins Jr. of The Stylistics, born 1951, and his signature hit "Betcha By Golly, Wow" from 1972.

Blue Magic hung it up after a sad attempted disco album in 1995, but The Delfonics and The Stylistics have both released recent live CDs. The Delfonics' members carefully cover renowned contemporaries such as Al Green and The Temptations, while The Stylistics stick to their own deeper catalogue. But the new supergroup album, overseen by veteran Philly Sound guitarist Bobby Ely, avoids such obvious oldies.

"Too Much Love" sure sounds like a harmony-group chestnut — you can almost place it, and it is — only the harmony group is the Bee Gees in 1979, well after the Legendary Tenors' pop run ended. The lead goes to The Stylistics' Thompkins, still the greatest of these singers, even if he sounds less creamy three decades on, just as Blue Magic's Mills is slightly less supple.

A more accurate sobriquet for these artists might be Legendary 3 Falsettos of Soul; that's why the more conventional tenor of The Delfonics' Hart never gets a full lead here. Rock guys used to think falsetto groups were silly, but that's because rock guys have trouble letting go of their macho. The Stylistics and Blue Magic voiced a transcendent tenderness, never raunchy like the great falsetto Prince, and it's a gift to hear their style of spiritual intensity renewed. "Love Men," soul falsettos are often called. But on this album, they embody other kinds of human fellowship, as well.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Christgau contributes regular music reviews to All Things Considered.

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