Here's a sensible, good-value thematic reissue, a blast of fresh air in an era where sometimes any excuses seem to be getting made to put out the same material over and over. Both of the late-'60s albums on which Butler collaborated with the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff production team, The Iceman Cometh and Ice on Ice, are combined on a single CD, with the addition of three other tracks from the era (which originally appeared on the LPs Mr. Dream Merchant and You and Me) featuring the same Butler-Gamble-Huff combination. Thus it isolates, on one solid package, the short-lived time in which Butler, working with Gamble & Huff, successfully enhanced the early Philadelphia soul sound, and vice versa. The Iceman Cometh, the (slightly) earlier of the pair of albums, is the one that will grab listeners' attention more, as it has the hits "Never Give You Up," "Hey, Western Union Man," and "Only the Strong Survive." But really, Ice on Ice isn't far behind in quality, featuring "A Brand New Me," which some listeners might be more familiar with from Dusty Springfield's version. It was the equal of its predecessor in sophisticated production, too, sometimes introducing the electric sitar-like sounds that became vogue throughout soul music for a while. The consistently sentimental stories might be a little overwhelming all at once. But overall these sessions are highlights of slick-yet-not-too-slick early Philly soul production, and ones in which the artist (Butler) is as much a creative contributor as Gamble & Huff. The CD also adds historical liner notes by author Craig Werner.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger