Soul Stars Saluting Motown, Philly Hits

The Motown-Philly connection Boyz II Men once sang about is alive and well -- and taking the form of the album "A Soulful Tale of Two Cities."

The Motown-Philly connection Boyz II Men once sang about is alive and well -- and taking the form of the album "A Soulful Tale of Two Cities." The project is the brainchild of Phil Hurtt, a Philadelphia International songwriter who co-wrote the Spinners' "I'll Be Around" with Thom Bell.

Hurtt and his cohorts are working in studios in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn and Philadelphia, where Motown singers are recording classic Philly soul songs and the Philly artists are doing the same with Motown hits. The final product will feature 46 tracks spread across two CDs.

Hurtt's Soul Renaissance Records hopes to release the album in June, with the first singles -- one Motown and one Philly song -- due May 16.

"It's one camp honoring the other camp, and vice versa," says Soul Renaissance vice-president Theo Primas, who is serving as the project's co-executive producer. "It's two great bodies of music that constitute what you can call the soundtrack of our lives. The artists are still here and vibrant, and we have not forgotten about them."

The Detroit contingent includes George Clinton ("Expressway to Your Heart," "Love Don't Let Me Wait"), Freda Payne ("Betcha By Golly, Wow," "When Will I See You Again"), Lamont Dozier ("Me and Mrs. Jones," "Close the Door"), the Velvelettes ("People Make the World Go Round," "One of a Kind Love Affair"), the Temptations' Ollie Woodson ("Stairway to Heaven" -- the O'Jays, not Led Zeppelin), Chapter 8's Carolyn Crawford ("Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)") and the Vancouvers' Bobby Taylor ("Sadie," "If You Don't Know Me by Now").

The Philly corps features Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge ("Superstition," "Dancing in the Street"), Jean Carne ("Higher Ground," Ted Mills of Blue Magic ("Shop Around," "Just My Imagination (Runnin' Away With Me)"), Barbara Mason ("Get Ready," "My Baby Loves Me"), the Delfonics' William Hart ("Just Ask the Lonely," "Darling Forever"), Russell Thompkins, Jr., of the Stylistics ("Ain't That Peculiar," "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)"), Bunny Sigler ("Stop! In the Name of Love," "Ooh Baby Baby," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing"), the Trammps' Jimmy Ellis ("Shotgun," "Isn't She Lovely") and Hurtt ("Girl's Alright With Me").

Sigler and Carne team up on "Fire and Desire," while Sigler and Hurtt have recorded a rendition of the Temptations' rarity "I Need You."

Motown's Funk Brothers and Philadelphia International's MFSB are also participating in the project, which is still being recorded. Other artists, including Motown's Kim Weston, are being added. A DVD from the sessions will be released, and some sort of live presentation -- and possibly a tour -- is being investigated.