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Larry Carlton Revisits Sounds of Philadelphia

John Patten By

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Soulful sounds may have started in Motown or Memphis, but for many, it's the sounds of Philadelphia that captured their hearts.

That's certainly the case for Larry Carlton, who released a collection of the biggest hits penned by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff on his 335 Records label, in February, 2011. Many of the songs were Top 10 hits by groups including The Spinners and The Stylistics, along with hits by other classic vocal groups.

On Plays The Sound of Philadelphia, Carlton worked with master recordings brought to him by producer Billy Terrell, and a stellar lineup of sidemen including organist Paul Shaffer, percussionist Vic Stevens, saxophonist Mark Douthit, and the original horn section from Blood, Sweat & Tears, which captured the mood and sounds of hits like "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love?" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New."

"I came in after the fact," Carlton explains. "Originally, Billy had cut all these tracks and had a vocalist in mind to interpret these songs." But after unsuccessfully searching for a vocalist to fit in, Terrell switched gears and imagined the tracks as instrumentals instead. Carlton's job was to add his interpretations to such iconic tunes as "I'll be There," "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and "Mama Can't Buy You Love."

"Never had I done a complete album of someone's catalogue, and every one of these songs was a hit back in its day," Carlton says. "Plus, being great melodies with great chord changes, I knew I'd enjoy finding my way of interpreting these songs."

Working in his studio, Carlton says he spent several hours on each song, working out his arrangements. Using his signature Gibson 335 guitar, and occasionally vintage Fenders including a '57 Telecaster and a '63 Stratocaster, he crafted melodies that capture the emotional content of the original recordings.

His take on "If You Don't Know Me By Now" captures so much emotion, that even the studio pro in Carlton was moved. "I played it maybe twice, after I found the guitar sound, and I remember welling up with emotion as I was playing it," he says, "one of those things where you know, at the end of the song, that [you] have felt the song deeply, personally. I'm very proud of that one."

The release is the fourth from Carlton's 335 Records, and comes on the heels of his winning a fourth Grammy Award with Tak Matsumoto for their collaboration, Take Your Pick (2010). He has two other projects, currently in post-production, for future release on 335 Records: a follow-up with Robben Ford; and a live recording, done in Paris.

Carlton leaves for a tour of Japan on March 20, 2011, and is working on scheduling dates in the U.S to support the new release.

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