Anglo-Saxon Brown ‘Songs for Evolution’ (SoulMusic/Warner Brothers) 4/5

anglo-saxon-brownThis welcome re-issue is one of the jewels in the crown of hard to find Philly soul from the classic era of the 1970s. Recorded at Sigma studios and featuring several Philadelphia International studio musicians ranging from guitarist Bobby Eli and percussionist Larry Washington to the impeccable sound of the Don Renaldo strings, this is a consistently strong album that had little impact at the time of release, but in the fullness of time has come to be regarded as a rare modern soul album of distinction.
Interestingly, despite the above details, Anglo-Saxon Brown were in fact a largely self-contained group who wrote from within the group. They were formed out of another group Ujima, a little known outfit, who recorded some tasty 45s during the early to mid-1970s. A change in direction and sound emerged with the arrival of Deborah Henry as vocalist in 1974. The original album was divided up into two distinct parts entitled ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’, which just adds a touch of authenticity to proceedings and the individual personality of the group is stamped all over this release and one of its undoubted charms. Classy production and superb mid-tempo numbers predominate on this set that oozes Philly chic and one of the key numbers is ‘Gonna make you mine’ with Henry’s lead vocals not dissimilar to those of the late Phyllis Hyman. Just as compelling is a gem of a song, ‘Call on me’, with gorgeous harmonies and the subtlest of grooves. It has one of those stunningly elongated 1970s intros with the additional personal touch complete with finger-snapping and a cappella keyboard breakdown. Of note to soul fans who prefer the shorter single version of a song on this extended edition is the inclusion of the 45 of ‘Straighten it out’ which is not the more famous Latimore song.

Rounding off matters in fine style is an extended fourteen page de facto mini essay on the band’s history that leaves no stone unturned and the incisive notes emanate from the pen of Mojo writer and soul aficionado Charles Waring who knows a thing or two about the finer side of soul. A fine album, then, from a little known band and fully deserving of re-issue. Among other classy acts who are little heard of and have only featured on the occasional compilation is flautist Artie Webb. Some of his mid-late 1970s Atlantic albums contain beautiful soul tracks alongside more Latin-tinged numbers and with a jazzy undercurrent overall. There is no shortage of under-valued musicians who merit a re-appreciation of their work and that is what makes this on going series such a delight.

Tim Stenhouse