Graded on a Curve:
The Thompsons,
I’ll Get Over It

Amongst other musical developments, the 1970s offered a solid stream of quality soul, often at peak refinement. In fact, it was the last decade in which this was the case, at least until the inevitable upsurge of neo-soul action a la Daptone and Big Crown. Enduring interest in the genre has liberated many underheard soul treasures from their nooks of obscurity, and with the reissue of The Thompsons’ I’ll Get Over It, another effectively lost set has been deservedly cast into the spotlight. The original 1975 edition of 300 copies delivered robust Philly vocal group goodness augmented with social conscience and in a killer twist, an ample injection of mellotron. It’s out now on BCW Records and Brewerytown Beats.

Although I’m speaking as a music writer and not as an excavator of recorded obscurities, it doesn’t seem that private press soul-R&B-funk is as common a find as is singer-songwriter material, generally folky stuff, assorted strains of psychedelia, and budding hard rock-proto heavy metal. And please note that I’m making a distinction between material that was truly self-released and the output of small indies and regional labels.

If the above observation is indeed a reality, socioeconomics is likely one reason why, though a statement from this reissue’s press release brings further insight: “for every Philly International Records smash, there was a neighborhood crew who sweated it out in local bars and VFW halls, many never even seeing their names on a vinyl release, never mind a theater marquee.”

In mid-20th century USA, an early yardstick for success in the soul-R&B-funk field (indeed, also the case for other uncut genre musics) was the bandstand of the nightclub or the community center. If you could make it on that platform, then you might (no guarantees, of course) be able to cut a record. As the reproduced flyer on I’ll Get Over It’s back cover illuminates, this was the route taken by The Thompsons, and it underscores how practice and performance instilled their record with a refreshing atmosphere and a consistently high level of quality.

A persistent aspect helping to shape many private press artifacts is an aura of the unusual, or the off-center, or occasionally even a downright outsider vibe. It is safe to speculate that the makers of these LPs spent more time in basements, garages, backyards and bedrooms than in clubs, which allowed for the artistic impulse, good, bad, strained or flat-out strange (sometimes all of them together), to go unchecked. Hey, that’s part of the potential appeal.

But that’s not what’s heard as I’ll Get Over It unfurls. Instead, as “The Message” opens the record, it’s The Thompson’s strength of foundation that makes the immediate impact. Following quickly is sheer ingenuity. Sure, the sound of the mellotron brings an element that’s distinctive from the ’70s soul norm, but it’s only a matter of seconds before the instrument, as played by group member and album producer Tyrone Broxton, integrates into the overall scheme. Really, the song’s boldest non-vocal ingredient is an unrelenting wah-pedal guitar motif.

Strikingly, Broxton was introduced to the mellotron in the New Jersey studio where they recorded the album. More impressive than his rapid learning of the instrument is how he deftly applied its textures to The Thompsons’ core sound. And while “The Message” is a decidedly post-Curtis-Marvin dive into social awareness, the approach of brothers Cornelius (aka Lefty), Sylvester (aka Lightbulb), and Bill, along with “honorary Thompson” Sandy Andersen, is more closely aligned with vocal group harmony a la The Delfonics and The Stylistics.

That’s what’s served up in “Seems Like I’ve Known You” and in the splendid uplift of “I’ll Always Love You.” In his liner notes for the reissue, Joshua Kwedar additionally cites Philly-based outfits The Fabulous Performers and The Royal Five, and if those names generate waves of positive personal recognition, then it’s a safe bet I’ll Get Over It will produce prolonged ripples of satisfaction.

The crucial point here is that while the LP is clearly the byproduct of a tight budget, it never once sounds second-rate. For example, “Invincible” just soars with intermingled vocal panache and a nifty spoken bit, as the mellotron does a more than serviceable job of substituting for the high-dollar string enhancements notable at Philly International and elsewhere.

But it’s not just vocals and mellotron that makes this album a keeper. The title cut thrives via sturdy drumming and piano accents. “Love in Her Eyes” even dishes a few clean toned, jazzy guitar licks, though as it takes over a minute for the singing to commence, the mellotron really stands out in its full positivity. From there, “We Love to Sing” is a rhythmically powerful statement of purpose and an effective prelude to the return of the socially conscious (plus a dose of humor) in finale “Gotta Get Down to Ever Get Up.”

And to get back to the subject of budget, had manager Eric Ward actually landed them in the clutches of a “real” record label, that mellotron would’ve never entered the equation, and it’s likely that at least a few of these eight solid originals would’ve gotten sidelined for outside material. The plentitude of talent on display across I’ll Get Over It makes it obvious that had The Thompsons landed a lucky break, they could’ve made it big. But if so, it’s highly unlikely they would’ve made a record as wonderfully unique as this one.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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