The Dells: a trio of albums
11th August 2015
CD Title: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, But We Did It!
CD Title: Love Connection
CD Title: One Step Closer
Quite an amazing R&B group for a host of reasons, not least because they seem to have been around forever but also because they have largely managed to retain the original members. For a doo woo group, formed in 1953 and originally called the El-Rays, to drag their style into the 60s but then to do it all over again in the 70s was a quite magnificent feat. More so when you consider how few of their contemporaries even managed to survive into the 60s, never mind further. Becoming a smooth soul harmony outfit, they certainly had their ups and downs but they were still a force in the 90s, for goodness sake.
What we have here are three CD albums from later in their career.
Two are from 1977, originally released on Mercury.
For They Said… The Dells teamed up with Norman Harris’ The Harris Machine, a group of arrangers, writers and musicians, who had had success in the Philly soul movement. The guys from the Machine got on with The Dells, offered them a host of songs and, after some initial trepidation, all went well. Everyone was happy until the album and the singles from the album appeared and the reaction was not as good as the group expected. According to original member Chuck Barksdale, Mercury spent too much time and money, “…promoting the Ohio Players and everybody else. And here we are, the newcomers, although we were the oldest act there.” He still loves the album and is very happy with it an as entity but it, “…just got side-tracked with the lack of marketing and promotion.”
Starting off with a couple of soul/disco grooves that feature a steady beat and attractive hooks, the pace drops for the ballad, Could It Be. A very strong outing that is one of the best cuts on the album. The album continues, varying pace and tempo to produce a worthy album that is well worth investigating.
Love Connection was the group’s third for Mercury (No Way Back was their first) with only nine months gap between the two. This album features a more traditional soul feel with a lush suite of strings et al while the group felt able to contribute a lot to the vocal arrangements. Again, the group produced a good album but, again, the label didnt want to know, focusing more and the up and coming artists on their roster. Consequently, the LP sank, despite critical acclaim. That was it for The Dells. They knew when enough was enough and promptly took their leave of Mercury.
Right from the first track, Private Property, you feel the gorgeous warmth of the arrangement combined with the rich harmonies from the group. It’s like surfing on chocolate. Even the more up-tempo songs like God Helps Those (Who Help Themselves) and the title track have a warmth and bass-rich presentation. Again, there’s plenty to like about this album. Featuring a signature 70s production sound, the song quality is decent, with a foot tapping groove throughout.
After that, the group bounced from one label to another effectively lost, in creative terms. The third LP on offer here fast forwards us to One Step Closer and 1984 when The Dells signed to Private in 1983. The recording was unorthodox beginning with the group asking for more money from their then enigmatic label boss, Joe ‘Hitman’ Isgro (distributed by CBS, hence the Sony label appellation at the back of this CD) for more strings. Money was forthcoming but the group of artists began recording on the steps on the building with the string players sitting on the steps. The album did reasonably well and was their only outing on Private. A few years later, Isgro (who would become a successful film producer) was in court, defending himself against accusations of racketeering, mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. A few years later, he was back in court defending himself against extortion…then loan sharking…then gambling…then conspiracy…then money laundering again.
But back to the album. It does suffer from fashion, featuring too many cheap and nasty synthesisers and drum machines, losing that soul reality that made the other two albums featured here so interesting but the sheer quality of the group burns through. Songs such as Love On, You Just Can’t Walk Away and Holdin’ On benefit from quality vocal performances. A worthy album for fans.
These three albums might be late entries in the career of The Dells and, because of that, may have been ignored by soul and Dells fans but there is much to admire in this album trio that shows why the group have attained legendary status.