Hart Presents

A recent album from Adrian Younge and William Hart has a strange, complex relationship with history.  The name of the album is Adrian Younge Presents The Delfonics, but it’s not the Delfonics—it’s just Hart, one member of the group. The album’s title implies more than just nostalgia; this is about reimagining the past in a different light, subtly tweaking and replacing it. It’s as if Hart gets to return to high school and do it all over again, knowing everything he knows now.

Adrian Younge has a background in cinema as well as music—he scored the 2010 film Black Dynamite.  The movie functioned as both an homage to and a spoof of Blaxploitation movies, which were often scored by famous soul singers (notable examples include Isaac Hayes’ Shaft and Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man). William Hart, was one of the original members of the Delfonics, a soul group from Philadelphia that helped to popularize a lush soul sound at the end of the 60s. Delfonics albums feature falsetto vocals, harmonies that are childlike in their highness, thick waves of string instruments, big horn sections, and crisp, light percussion.

Hart wrote most of the songs for the album, and he does most of the singing himself, including his own backup vocals (Younge handles the instruments).  Hart’s voice sounds almost comically high at times, like he’s knowingly poking a little fun at his younger self, though he’s maybe just an older man pushing extra hard to recreate the vocal twirls of a 25 year-old.

Younge creates firmer backbeats and uses fewer strings than the 60s Delfonics recordings, which sometimes buried the percussion under massive mountains of instrumentation. The clearer drums, front and center in the mix, point towards more recent developments: Younge also worked with the New York rapper Ghostface Killah on a new album, and the beats in Ghostface’s songs often revolve around samples of songs from old soul groups, including the Delfonics (Ghostface and Delfonics track “After The Smoke Is Clear” below). Younge works simultaneously to use the old as building blocks for the new, and to make the new sound appear to be a sharper, edgier old.  This self-reflexive approach allows the listener to experience the past without being transported there, like a voyeur standing firmly outside while peaking at the past through a dirty window.

 

Hart’s words hint at the record’s purpose in reclaiming and replacing his youth.  On “I Can’t Cry No More” he sings, “When all I have is these memories. . . I feel so all alone.”  Later, he notes that“No one is left to have a party with me.”  When all you’ve got is old memories and they’re bringing you down, it pays to create some new ones. Adrian Younge and William Hart look simultaneously backwards and forwards, subtly reclaiming and changing what went before.

 

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