Marlena Shaw always knew how to grab your attention. Be it her boldly titled, “Who is This Bitch Anyway?” or taking a page from Nancy Wilson’s “Guess Who I Saw Today” with the episodic “Go Away Little Boy” or transforming Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” into a disco suite, she had a knack for making one ask, “just who is this anyway?”.
As disco left many great vocalists sitting on the sidelines, Marlena created 3 compelling albums in the late ‘70s that deserve another listen. Two, “Sweet Beginnings” and “Take a Bite” have just been reissued.
She stayed in familiar territory with the classic, “Sweet Beginnings” choosing songs that accentuated her strengths. The songs were strong from the title track to “Johnny” to “Go Away Little Boy”, Marlena excelled in her element. The album could best be described as lite jazz blended with adult r&b.
The standouts on “Sweet Beginnings” have to be “Go Away Little Boy” and “I Think I’ll Tell Him”. Both songs stay in the quiet storm format and are both memorable. “Go Away Little Boy” features a great spoken word section that is both humorous and tight musically. “I Think I’ll Tell Him” closes out the album. It is a light swinging jazz-flavored tracked that once again highlights Marlena’s gift for storytelling.
“Take a Bite” was the final album Marlena recorded for Columbia. It was released in 1980 towards the end of what may be known as the disco era. One side is an entire disco-sweetened suite built around Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year”. Though many great vocalists amongst Marlena’s peers struggled to remain relevant during this period, “Take a Bite” was certainly credible. “Take a Bite” adds little to her jazz legacy, but, doesn’t exclude her from sounding contemporary.
“I’ll Be Your Friend” is a gospel-inflected jazz song that is much closer to Marlena’s core strengths. With a simple piano and another great storyline, Marlena definitely feels like she is in her element.
But not to completely disregard her taking a bite, if you will, at disco, she hit the summit on the dance charts with a disco-fied take on “Touch Me in the Morning”. The arrangement of the song ranks up there with the grandeur of the times. “Love Dancin’” is another candidate for the clubs. While it may leave Marlena’s core audience a little confused, she proves that she would not be confined to a certain style of music. It was the end of the disco era though it is debatable it ever went away. Disco was just transformed into club and techno, erasing the restrictive “disco” label. “Take a Bite” and “Sweet Beginnings” both deserve another chance.
Ratings: Take A Bite 6.5 Sweet Beginnings 8
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry. Kirk can be contacted via email at email@example.com
About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.