Salsoul Orchestra ‘How High’ (BBR) 4/5

Salsoul-Orchestra-How-HighOne of the key session bands that were instrumental (no pun intended) in creating the classic disco sound were MFSB, or the sound of Philadelphia International records. A contractual dispute in the late 1970s resulted in the collective jumping ship to Salsoul records and the rest is history. This 1979 album captures them in prime form and includes four tasty bonus cuts with a Larry Levin 12″ remix of the title track and a 12″ instrumental version of ‘Catch me on the rebound’ remixed by another seminal disco DJ Walter Gibbons. The Salsoul Orchestra always emphasized the soulful underground side of disco and this is reflected in some of the classy numbers on this set. Arguably the strongest track is the devastatingly catchy ‘Resorts International’ which oozes dancefloor appeal and is this writer’s personal favourite. Of course the Salsoul Orchestra were not averse to the other bands of the era and on ‘Have a good time’ there is an approach that both hints at Chic and, in the riff at least, at Change’s ‘Lover’s Holiday’ which would only be released a year later in 1980. Simply put, the feel good factor in the Salsoul Orchestra’s démarche cannot be underestimated and contributes enormously to the universal appeal of their music and this at a time of unprecedented social and political upheaval that was taking place in the United States.

If the centrepiece of the album is unquestionably the title track with lead vocals by Cognac, then it’s flip side for single release, ‘My number’s up’, is a compelling number complete with a quasi-Caribbean undercurrent. For some welcome variety, the subtle hues of ‘I’ll keep you warm’ with epic strings and collective chorus makes for an intriguing left-field album composition. The classic cover with model dressed as an airplane pilot says it all. Co-produced by Sigma studios stalwarts Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Bunny Sigler, this is one classy album.

Tim Stenhouse