M.F.S.B. ‘The Definitive Collection’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

The acronym itself may well have its divided camps (we shall stick to the politer version of ‘Mother, Father, Sister, Brother’, but a foul-mouthed, more street-wise version does nonetheless exist), but there is little disputing their wide-ranging historical influence on the field of dance music that MFSB have exerted, and this in different guises, since the very same collective of musicians are known equally as the Salsoul Orchestra who operated out of the same Sigma studios in Philadelphia. This double CD is a tribute to that very sound, although their Salsoul career is a different story altogether and covered elsewhere on CD’s by BBE. They surfaced just as early disco was emerging and one of their most endearing numbers, ‘TSOP’, became the back drop to the Don Cornelius led ‘Soul Train’ programme that graced US television, doing so much in the process to promote black music nationally, and eventually internationally when clips were broadcast throughout the globe. A further classic disco anthem is to be found in ‘K-Jee’, and the only surprise here is that this has not received up until now a major and extended re-edit. On the left-field of dance, ‘Picnic In The Park’, was always a classy piece of music, while MFSB prided themselves on covering some early 1970’s funk and soul hit songs in their own inimitable fashion. These included, Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘A Family Affair’, a wonderful re-working of ‘Freddie’s Dead’, that provided the instrumentation to a Curtis Mayfield soundtrack, and a take on the O’Jays ‘Back Stabbers’.

Jazzier cuts such as ‘Zach’s Fanfare’ indicate how closely disco, Latin and jazz elements could cross-pollinate and still sound convincing and authentic, whereas Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ has undergone a refined salsa/disco makeover that actually works. Later on in their career, they moved into the 1980’s with the understated ‘Mysteries Of The World’, which joins Dexter Wansel as the soulful side of keyboard-led music and co-founder of the label, Leon Huff, regularly performed on Hammond organ. Meanwhile there is a strong blues vibe to a piece like ‘Lay In Low’. Sophisticated disco is where MFSB excelled as with ‘Get Down With The Philly Sound’, but they could also contribute biting social satire when required as on the collective Philly International All Stars, 1977 smash hit ‘Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto’.

The one pity here is the absence of an extended version of arguably their greatest claim to fame, the epic ‘Love Is The Message’. The album version does not quite do justice to the extra long interpretation that DJ Tom Moulton spun this tune into and making way with space for this essential piece of dance floor history should have been a priority, even if it meant leaving out some of their latter product which does tend towards easy listening. Likewise, it is pity we have no examples of them live which do exist and are worthy of our attention. In several cases, these would have been preferable to the inferior later tracks. Otherwise, a solid selection of the essential. Extensive liner notes from Mojo journalist Charles Waring provide a useful overview to the evolution of the collective of musicians.

Tim Stenhouse