There are few things as truly satisfying as hearing good ol' fashioned soul music sung with conviction and honest emotion and while the emphasis in today's music industry may be on appealing to audiences under 30, it is a real blessing that some of our time-honored classic R&B groups and solo artists still manage to find a way to release new product. It’s been more than a minute since The Manhattans had a brand new album but for those who fondly remember great recordings like "Kiss And Say Goodbye," "I Kinda Miss You" and "We Never Danced To A Love Song" (and die-hard fans of the group who recall late '60s and early '70s hits like "A Million To One" and "One Life To Live"), the wait is over.
With Winfred 'Blue' Lovett and Gerald Alston leading the way, the quartet have come through with a sparkling CD entitled "Even Now" which contains some of the best classic soul sides we've heard in a while. Cuts like "Love Me Right," "Turn Out The Stars," "Nites Like This," "Any Other Way" and a showstopping duet between Gerald and Peggi Blu on "Let's Try Love" simply remind us of how much great music The Manhattans have provided us with in the past thirty-plus years.
A chat with Gerald reveals that the impetus for making "Even Now" began in 1999 after The Manhattans were honored with a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in Los Angeles. "I got back together with the group in 1993 for our 30th anniversary reunion," says Gerald (who recorded as a solo artist with Motown Records and Street Life Records from 1988 to 1995). "One thing led to another and after we got the Pioneer Award in L.A., we met with Ted Perlman, who produced the new album. We’d known Ted from the days when we were on the road and he was the guitar player with Stephanie Mills. Anyway, a month after the awards, we came back out to Los Angeles and recorded the song "Love Me Right." We took time to find and record the material. We did what felt good to us, what felt right. And this is the very first time ever that we were able to do it our way: usually someone else would have something to do with the way our records turned out."
Gerald says the approach was "not to change our style or sound but to bring it up to date. Ted did all the arrangements and he kept us contemporary and current. Our aim was to find the type of songs that would last. When I hear some of our records on the radio, I'm amazed that they sound just as good as they did in the '70s. If you listen to the lyrics of "Shining Star" and "Kiss And Say Goodbye," you're hearing great songs. That's what we wanted to do in choosing material for this album."
A prime example is "Let's Try Again," Gerald's duet with Peggi, who also happens to be Mrs. Perlman! We quip that all she had to do was walk from the kitchen to Ted's studio and Gerald shares that "it was a pleasure to be able to sing with someone with experience, with the 'chops' to do it. We did the song 'live' and we really 'felt' each other musically." Gerald had originally cut the song for his solo Motown debut and he reveals, "it was supposed to be a duet back then. We were planning to do the song with Vesta but it didn't work out so I did it as a solo track. It was my idea to go back and re-do the song." Gerald is equally enthused about the Jim Weatherly song "Turn Out The Stars" adding that the idea to cover Sly Stone's "Everyday People" stemmed from "wanting to do a song that people knew that we could do our way."
Asked about how it felt to return to the group after experiencing some solo success and recognition, Gerald admits, "It was not an easy decision to make. I wanted to do the reunion - and I still never want to close the door on doing more solo projects, like a gospel record and a Sam Cooke tribute album. But it was so funny the first day we had a rehearsal after I came back. It was like I never left, everything seemed natural like the choreography. It was kinda like riding a bike - you never forget. The difference in being back with the group now is that I know what I want and what it takes to maintain. You know, sometimes you can get caught up in things around you… But this time, I have a true focus."
It turns out that Gerald's reunion with The Manhattans (whose line-up includes Troy May and David Tyson who have been with the group since 1993) was sparked by a conversation with Al Goodman of Ray, Goodman & Brown. "He suggested we go back and do the reunion tour and tour with RG&B," Gerald recalls. "We found two other guys…and that was eight years ago! We really picked up where we left off doing concerts with artists like B.B. King, The Dells, The Whispers and The O'Jays. We find some younger people on some of the shows - especially with The Whispers. Their parents have often passed on the records to their kids and that's how they know our music…"
With a schedule that includes a concert with Luther Vandross just outside Memphis, other tour dates and promotion for their brand new Beemark Records' release, The Manhattans are looking forward to a busy year. Naturally, the group will be doing many of their classic recordings onstage along with some of the new material; asked if there's one particular song that Gerald feels is a 'hidden gem' from the group's legacy of recordings, he mentions "You're My Life," a Teddy Randazzo song that was on the group's "There's No Good In Goodbye" 1978 Columbia album. "I remember to this day doing the demo for the song with Teddy at his home in Nyack, New York. I walked into the living room and had the strings and horns right there! I had never seen that kind of set up [in someone's house]. We did the demo and gave it to our producer Bobby Martin and he said, 'what am I supposed to do with this?' That was a great song…and I'd like to think that "Turn Out The Stars" is one of those same kind of songs…"
Certainly, Gerald, Blue and co. can be proud that they're giving classic R&B and soul music lovers something to truly enjoy with "Even Now," a fine album from one of our most enduring groups.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.