Kent Records and the Manhattans are far from strangers. In 1993, the group's first two albums, recorded for the Carnival label, Dedicated To You" and "For You And Yours", were paired for a 'two-fer' cd (CDKEND 103) and, between 1994 and 2002, a number of individual Carnival tracks turned up on Kent various artists' compilations.
This time, Kent have moved us on from mid/late-60s product to 1973 and '74 with the first and second albums that the group made for the Columbia label, where they had most success. Not that they had been strangers to the charts before, fourteen 45s and two LP entries on the Billboard R&B charts prior to their spell at Columbia demonstrate that. For those who revel in statistics, reference to the Record Research publication, Top R&B Singles, 1942-1999 by Joel Whitburn" - shows the Manhattans placed #47 in the list of Top 500 artists, based on chart entries and positions over the relevant period. Their period with Columbia spawned 26 (of 44) R&B appearances, beginning with the #3 R&B (#43 pop) peaker, There's No Me Without You, which made its chart debut at the end of May 1973 and bringing us neatly to this CD pairing.
The copious liner notes to this release, written by Tony Rounce, tell the tale of the group and their individual outings in detail. To recap, the roots of the Manhattans go back to New Jersey-based group the Dorsets, who disbanded circa 1962, displacing members Winfrid "Blue" Lovett, George 'Smitty' Smith and Richard "Richie" Taylor. That threesome quickly hooked up with Edward "Sonny" Bivens and Kenneth "Wally" Kelly, the Manhattans was born. In 1963, an appearance at the Amateur Night At The Apollo brought them to the attention of Joe Evans, a Newark-based record producer who signed the group to his newly-formed Carnival Records and the quintet was on its way.
On the expiry of their five-year Carnival contract, the group moved to King Records' DeLuxe subsidiary and the earlier successes that had cemented the group name continued. Sadly George Smith fell ill with spinal meningitis and, although his voice is heard on the initial DeLuxe recordings, Phil Terrell - another 'fall-out' from Carnival - became a temporary stand-in for live performances. Ultimately, in 1971, George Smith died and a permanent replacement was found in the shape of Gerald Alston, possessor of a similarly rich, if smoother, voice. The stay at DeLuxe was relatvely short and, by 1973, they had been scooped up by Columbia. In 1977, having converted to Islam, Richard Taylor left the group and they continued as a quartet for the rest of their Columbia tenure. This lasted until 1987, when Taylor died and Alston announced his intention to pursue a solo career, signing with Motown. This move undermined the group and, after a one-off set with Valley Vue, much of the 90s found the former compatriots at loggerheads, with Edward Bivins teaming up with four new Manhattans and recording an album for the Hektoen label while Kenneth Kelly and Winfrid Lovett went in another direction entirely. (The animosity was such that, as Pioneer Award Winners of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1999, there was much back-stage speculation that the Columbia Records' line-up being honoured would agree to perform together. They did!) Most recently, the Manhattans name has been carried by Gerald Alston with Winfrid Lovett as the featured "names", augmented by David Tyson and Troy May.
So what of the content of this two-album set? On signing the group, Columbia put them with hot producer/arranger, Bobby Martin, who took them off to the equally hot Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. However Martin did not get them all to himself, some chores were undertaken by Teddy Randazzo at Columbia's own studios in New York City.
The Manhattans were experienced songwriters and their talents were fully utilised. Edward Bivins penned the sterling ballad, There's No Me Without You, very much in the vein of what would become the group's most successful format - up-front lead, quintessential harmonies and a few spoken lines. Winfrid Lovett kept the formula going for We Made It and Wish That You Were Mine but provided variety by way of the uptempo Soul Train, while Kenneth Kelly offered a relaxed floater in The Day The Robin Sang To Me. Rounding off the group's efforts on the first album, Messrs Alston and Lovett collaborated on the understated beauty, The Other Side Of Me.
The "That's How Much I Love You" album was, by contrast, a slightly stranger affair. Columbia had acquired the group's DeLuxe masters as part of the contract deal and, although there was no need at the time for a "rushed" album, they opted to place the earlier material on side two of the set, duplicating three tracks from the DeLuxe "A Million To One" LP plus two tracks taken from the vaults: an excellent version of A Change Is Gonna Come and some 'wah-wah funk' by way of Winfrid Lovett's Nursery Rhymes. Lovett was also responsible for the uncharacteristic Summertime In The City, a minor hit single (#45 R&B) compared with the more traditional Don't Take Your Love From Me (#7 R&B) from the Philly writers Allan Felder, Bunny Sigler and Ron Kersey. Given that a dozen albums were issued by the Manhattans on DeLuxe and Columbia - and that excludes any 'greatest hits' packages - let's hope this is just the start. (Got the hint, Kent?)
by DAVID COLE Editor
In The Basement