In the late 60s and early 70s, there was a wealth of R & B vocal groups who harmonized with a sophisticated and silky sound that was often called "sweet soul." You know the songs--the classics by the Stylistics, the Del-fonics, the Chi-Lites, and the Spinners that still spin regularly on oldies stations.
But what about the Manhattans?
This three-disc retrospective turns the spotlight on this nearly-forgotten group, reminding us why they belong in the sweet soul pantheon.
The vocal quintet from Jersey City, NJ, spend most of Disc One finding their soul legs. Motown and Stax knock-offs like "Baby I Need You," "It's Gonna Take A Lot To Bring Me Back," and "I Betcha (Couldn't Love Me)," catchy and beautifully arranged as they are, didn't help the Manhattans scale very far up the charts.
It wasn't until 1970 that their brew started to percolate. Gerald Alston joined the group, putting his unmistakable tenor in the vocal driving seat. Then they found a brilliant arranger in Philly Soul titan Bobby Martin, who wrapped them in orchestrated glory. Finally, they unveiled the secret weapon of Winfred "Blue" Lovett's basso profundo spoken interludes. These elements all come together on gems like "Wish That You Were Mine," "Hurt," "Summertime In The City," and their signature song, "Kiss and Say Goodbye."
Disc Three continues into the 80s with the group's biggest hit, "Shining Star," disco flirtations "I'll Never Find Another" and "Let Your Love Come Down," and more of their quiet storm specialties like "Honey Honey." Regrettably, the drum machines and DX-7s take over for the last five or so tracks, rendering them almost unlistenable.
Today, there are two versions of the Manhattans duking it out on the fairground and casino circuit. While that probably makes for some bittersweet soul, this anthology--especially Disc Two--captures the group at their most harmonious. • Bill DeMain