Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Larry Carlton: Plays the Sounds of Philadelphia: A Tribute to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Seasoned guitar master Larry Carlton gets to pick his own music now that he’s free from Fourplay and on his own record label. Since he began going it alone, he’s reinterpreted some of his best songs and created duo projects with Robben Ford and Tak Matsumoto-the latter of which recently won a Grammy.

Now Carlton has headed down a road less traveled with a tribute to the legendary songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble and Huff have certainly been covered by R&B stars new and old, but Carlton doesn’t immediately pop to mind when thinking Philly soul. Carlton has a blues and rock edge that’s served him well on hundreds of session dates with pop stars like the Partridge Family, rock bands like Steely Dan and folk-rock staples like Joni Mitchell. Brotherly Love sessions didn’t enter into the mix much, but you’d never know from this percolating CD produced by Billy Terrell.

Gamble and Huff have generated more than 100 Gold and Platinum records and more than 70 No. 1 hits. Naturally, Carlton bends a few of those to his own will. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “I’ll Be Around” are smooth affairs, but he rips with blues licks and a grittier feel on “Back Stabbers.” Even better is “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” which retains the flow of the oft-heard original but subs in Carlton at his rawest and most rock-informed.

Veteran vocalist Bill LaBounty’s velvety vocal chops highlight “Drownin’ in the Sea of Love” and “Only the Strong Survive.” There’s a top-notch supporting cast, led by Paul Shaffer on organ, with pianist Tony DeSare, guitarist Tommy Byrnes, bassist Christopher Li’Nard Jackson, drummer Andrea Valentini and saxophonist Max Douthit. A supplementary DVD covers the making of the CD.