Reviews

ROZETTA JOHNSON; A Woman’s Way (Kent)

Thursday, 08 December 2016 19:19 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altBorn down in deepest Alabama, Rozetta Johnson was a southern soul singer who never achieved the success that her talent deserved. That said, her work is revered by collectors of real soul music.... many of whom who were turned onto her by soul commentator, Dave Godin. Dave was (indeed still is) known throughout the soul world for all kinds of things ... championing the early Motown label, creating the term "Northern" soul and penning provocative columns amongst them. One of his greatest achievements though was his curating of a series of "Deep Soul" albums that are treasured by all who know them. One of the tracks he included in his series was 'Who Are You Gonna Love' from Ms Johnson and that tune is one of the focal points on this new Kent 22 track retrospective album on the singer.

That 1971 recording was released via Moonsong/Clintone but prior to that Rozetta had recorded for NRC and Jessica. Collectors will be delighted to have her recordings for those early labels so easily available. At NRC, she was credited as "Rosetta Johnson and the Organettes" and the two included cuts ... 'Willow Weep For Me' and 'I Understand My Man '(both with live atmospherics) are notably different to her later deep soul cuts. Similarly the Jessica tracks (which were also licensed to Atlantic), 'That Hurts' and 'It's Nice To Know You', are catchy pop/soul (albeit top notch and with the emphasis on "soul") rather than the bleak, haunting deep soul for which she's best known.

Rozetta's stylistic turnaround came after she moved to the Moonsong/Clintone label group where she was paired with aspiring song writer, Sam Dees and the pairing was a match made in deep soul heaven. Her first two recordings for Moonsong/Clintone – 'A Woman's Way' and the aforementioned 'Who Are You Gonna Love' - became R&B hits but extended success eluded Rozetta Johnson, despite more top drawer Dees' songs and even a soul-rending version of the Bee Gee's 'To Love Somebody'.

As the hits dried up, so too did the live engagements, so Ms Johnson found work as school secretary only flexing her vocal chords in church. After divorce, she did go back to club work... earning a local reputation as a jazz singer. Indeed she was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame in 1982. Rozetta Johnson died in 2011. By then though she had the pleasure of knowing that her searing soul stylings of the 70s had at last found an appreciative audience, albeit in the UK and Europe.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2016 19:24

 

DENIECE WILLIAMS: 'Black Butterfly - The Essential Niecy' (bbr)

Thursday, 08 December 2016 09:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Though Deniece Williams' solo career exploded big time in 1976 when Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White took her under his wing and helped get her a deal with Columbia, her first shot at solo stardom came much earlier in the late '60s and early '70s when she issued a clutch of forgotten 45s for several small indie labels under her maiden name, Denise Chandler. The singles didn't make a lot of noise but one of them, 'Love Is Tears,' was heard by none other than Stevie Wonder. As a result, she got to audition for his troupe of backing singers, Wonderlove, in 1972 and went on tour and recorded in the studio with the blind genius during the next three years. Wonder was so generous that he allowed her a few fleeting minutes in the spotlight on her own during his concerts and that's when Maurice White got to hear her. On that particular occasion White heard Williams showcase one of her own songs, 'Free,' which convinced him to produce her. It began a thirteen-year association with Columbia Records that catapulted the singer with the ethereal voice to fame and garnered her a string of memorable hit records. That period - undoubtedly the most fertile in her long career - is chronicled by this stupendous new 2-CD compilation, which as well as presenting remastered tracks includes a liner note essay packed with quotes from Williams and some of her musical associates (it also features a heartfelt foreword written by Johnny Mathis, who enjoyed some hit duets with the singer).

But 'Free' was where it all began for Deniece Williams and it's no surprise that this 35-track set starts with the classic anthem that for many people (this writer included) was their first introduction to the singer from Gary, Indiana (which, of course, was also the town that gave us the Jackson family). White was the perfect producer for Williams, finding her great tunes, putting her with top-flight musicians and framing her celestial tones with classy arrangements. There are several selections for the two excellent albums White helmed for her ('This Is Niecy' and 'Song Bird') plus tracks culled from solo albums she cut with Ray Parker Jr, David Foster, and Thom Bell ('It's Gonna Take A Miracle') in the late '70s and early '80s as well her Jack Gold-produced duets project with Johnny Mathis, which yielded the 1978 US R&B chart topper,  'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.'

The second disc in the anthology fast forwards to 1984, when Williams topped the charts around the world with the George Duke-helmed 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' (the extended mix is featured on this collection).  By that time, R&B had entered the brave new world of early digital technology and drum machines, sequencers and synths ruled the roost. As that track - and others like it - show, Williams was able to adapt to changing styles and tastes without losing her uniqueness and inherently soulful quality. Other big hits from this era included the pop-oriented, 'Never Say Never' (the 12-inch version is present here), and 'I Can't Wait.' Further standouts come in the shape of the excellent groove ballad, 'Do What You Feel' (a pre-'Let's Hear It For The Boy' George Duke-produced cut), the aspirational affirmation, 'Black Butterfly,' the funky 'Next Love,' and the lovely Monte Moir-helmed ballad, 'All I Need.'

After leaving Columbia, Williams returned to her gospel roots, focusing on inspirational music though more recently has released secular material again. This superlative, attractively-packaged, compendium takes us back to the singer's glory years, showing us how the small town girl from Gary, Indiana, really did blossom into a black butterfly and became one of the biggest and most beautiful-voiced soul singers on the planet. 

(CW) 4/5

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2016 09:35

 

KARYN WHITE: 'Karyn White' (bbr)

Friday, 02 December 2016 15:19 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Church-reared Los Angeles singer, Karyn White, was just 23 when she released this, the first of three albums for Warner Bros, in 1988. She was already on the radar of some soul fans due to her presence on fusion keyboardist Jeff Lorber's 'Private Passion' album two years earlier but really came into her own on this, her nine-track debut, which hooked her up with rising R&B producers, Babyface and LA Reid, whose infectious, hook-laden songs and slick, mechanised production values were beginning to have a seismic impact on the US R&B scene.

Now reissued with an additional disc of bonus tracks, 'Karyn White' is a quintessential slice of '80s R&B whose sound is defined by crashing, programmed drum beats, sequenced rhythm tracks and glacial synthesizer parts. It's because of these very qualities that some '80s R&B and soul albums haven't stood the test of time very well but thankfully, White's debut platter is redeemed by good material, especially in terms of its ballads, which outshine the dance-oriented songs that rely too much on computerized technology. The best of the slower songs are the poignant yet empowering anthem, 'Superwoman' - where White was able to stretch out vocally and show how talented she was - and the sweetly seductive duet with Babyface, 'Love Saw It.'  The mid-tempo 'Slow Down' - helmed by Brit, Steve Harvey - is also appealing but ironically, White's biggest-selling US single, 'Secret Rendezvous,' sounds a tad dated now as a result of LA & Babyface's brash, and somewhat plastic production sound (though it was considered state of the art back in 1988). White's debut single, the euphoric dancer, 'The Way You Love Me,' another LA & Babyface confection, has lasted better, perhaps because of its more exuberant vibe, chanted chorus and Latin percussion break.

Appended to the original album are a slew of bonus cuts, including a couple of single B-sides, both written and produced by the estimable Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers (whose latest protégé is Kandace Springs). Though they, too, are heavily indebted to late-'80s music technology, they stand up better than some of LA Reid & Babyface cuts from White's debut album.  'Love On The Line' is a solid dance groove with a fat bass, funky keys and dynamic vocal performance from White while 'Language Of Love' is a more spacious groove but still packs a punch with its System-esque feel. Just as engaging are three cuts that White recorded with Jeff Lorber, which includes the super-catchy 'Facts Of Love' (another fine Sturken/Rogers tune) which sounds better than all of the uptempo tracks combined from her solo debut LP. Another Lorber cut, 'Back In Love,' a duet featuring White and Michael Jeffries, also stands up well after almost thirty years.

A second disc is packed with a plethora of remixes (twelve in all) of both White solo tracks and Jeff Lorber tracks, including the 'Actuality Mix' of 'The Facts Of Love' and a superior version of 'The Way You Love Me' housed-up by Paul Simpson.  Accompanying the music are detailed liner notes, including new interviews with White, Lorber and Darryl Simmons, which help to make this a worthwhile, value-for-money, package.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 December 2016 15:23

 

GLADYS KNIGHT: Miss Gladys Knight/Gladys Knight (SoulMusic Records)

Friday, 02 December 2016 12:22 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altAs my esteemed SJF colleague Charles Waring points out in his excellent sleeve notes to this new SoulMusic Records twofer, the late 70s were a troublesome and turbulent time for Gladys Knight and, by extension, her faithful, family backing singers, The Pips.

In 1973 Gladys, brother Bubba and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest left Motown to join Buddah. There they almost immediately enjoyed some of the biggest success of their already garlanded career. Records like 'Midnight Train To Georgia' and 'The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me' turned Gladys Knight and her Pips into major crossover stars at home and across the globe.

By 1978, though, the hits has started to dry up and Buddah entered a complex financial downturn. Takeovers, stock sales and buy outs left the label in dire straits and sensing this, Ms Knight and the boys made plans to leave and join Columbia Records. Simultaneously complex law suits were launched by, it seems, everybody with an interest in Buddah... including Gladys and the Pips. As is the way with corporate America, the litigation went on and on and record making was put on hold for "Gladys Knight and the Pips". However, contractually at any rate, "Gladys Knight" was a different entity and in those circumstances she, reluctantly, worked on her first solo album. Thus 'Miss Gladys Knight' was released on Buddah in 1978.

The album has just won reissue on SoulMusic Records. Musically, it's a classic Gladys Knight album. That's to say a warming mix of driving up-tempo cuts and heart-rending ballads all delivered in the Atlanta-born singer's distinct, gospel-infused style. All that's missing (obviously) from her previous work are the bvs of the Pips.... replaced by a femme chorus. My pick on the set is 'I'm Still Caught Up With You'.... one of those cuts that makes you realise why Gladys Knight is regarded as one of the pre-eminent soul divas.

By the time the album was released Ms Knight had left Buddah and she was already working on a début set for Columbia. Simply titled 'Gladys Knight' that long player was released in 1979 and it forms the second part of this twofer release. Again the transition between labels made no distinct musical changes... the sound of the eponymous collection follows where the previous album left off. Highlights? Well, that's a personal thing. My picks are the lilting 'If You Ever Need Somebody' and a dramatic reading of 'I Who have Nothing' where the moody, shifting rhythms echo Gladys' early 60s hit, 'Giving Up'.

Given the circumstances of the releases, the similar titling and the fact that Buddah issued a Gladys Knight and the Pips album at about the same time, the two solo sets meant very little despite their quality. Soul fans I'm sure, will be delighted to have them easily accessible again and to make said fans even happier the release comes with lots of bonuses. Amongst them are four outtakes from the 'Gladys Knight' sessions. These include a lovely version of the standard 'For All We Know'. Gladys's reading of the song is, as you'd expect, right up there with the best!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 02 December 2016 12:29

 

VARIOUS; Super Duper Love (Kent)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016 14:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

alt'Super Duper Love' is Ace/Kent's latest look at the back catalogue of New York indie label Mainstream and its various offshoots. Mainstream was founded in 1964 by jazz guitarist Bob Shad but prior to that Shad had been a jazz session musician who'd also produced numerous indie jazz recordings and worked over the years for the Mercury and Decca labels as well as fronting his own imprints (like Shad, Time and Brent). He intended Mainstream to be a jazz label, but market place pressures meant that he ended up recording and releasing pop, rock and, of, course, soul and here we can enjoy 24 classy and collectable soul outings.

Shad's reputation in the biz meant that he managed to tempt some big(ish) names to record for him. Amongst the artists on this collection who had a measure of form are Lenny Welch, Freddie Scott, Doris Duke and The Dramatics. This set of Dramatics featured original Detroit group members Lenny Mayes and William Howard and their tune is a sweet yet gritty, ballad 'Feel It'. It was the B side to 'No Rebate On Love' (featured on Kent's last Mainstream collection) and features those typical Dramatic "switched" lead vocals. It seems that the "the other Dramatics" (Ron Banks et al) aimed some kind of action at Mayes and Howard, 'cos for their next single the Mainstream "Dramatics" changed their name to "The Dramatic Experience"! And whist we're unravelling Dramatics trivia, we need to tell you that this collection features a lovely, 'Just In The Nick Of Time' from Chocolate Syrup, who, of course, at one time featured L J Reynolds (a sometime Dramatic!)

On 'Super Duper Love' there are lots more sweet harmony items .... Special Delivery's 'The Lonely One', 'Then I Reach Satisfaction' from the Eleventh Commandment and 'Success Don't Come Easy' from the Steptones amongst them.

There are plenty of different favours to enjoy too... like Afrique's funky version of 'Soul Makosa', Sandra Phillips's steamy 'I Need You Back Home' and plenty of great soul crooning. Pick of that last bunch for me is J G Lewis's 'Let The Music Play' ... a hybrid of Jerry Butler and Lou Rawls! The album's title cut, by the way, is from Sugar Billy and the tune, 'Super Duper Love', was, of course, eventually covered by Joss Stone. Like everything here, the Sugar Billy cut is appearing on UK CD for the very first time.

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 November 2016 14:30

 

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