Without any doubt, one of the most powerful vocalists to have emerged in the past decade is the ever-delightful and truly ultra-soulful Ms. Ann Nesby. As the lead singer with The Sounds Of Blackness, Ann contributed her dynamic vocal skills to the group, helping to establish - via such early '90s classics as "The Pressure," "Testify" and "Optimistic" - the team's presence as a genre-stretching aggregation with an international appeal.
It was no surprise when Ann stepped out to make her first solo album for Jam & Lewis' Perspective label in 1996; from the time that The Sounds had signed with the Minneapolis-based hitmakers' imprint, it had been understood that Ann would be making a record of her own. The magnificent "I'm Here For You" fulfilled all of that promise, with outstanding tracks like "I'm Still Wearing Your Name" and "This Weekend" won Ann much-deserved continued acclaim.
Caught up in the politics of a merger between PolyGram and The Universal Music Group, Ann's recording contract was assigned to Interscope Records and fans eagerly awaited her sophomore project. I remember interviewing for an updated bio and was thrilled to hear some of the amazing music that would comprise the Interscope album, to be known as "Love Is What We Need." There were a few delays but the release of the title track to dance clubs and radio was a good omen that the album was about to come out. The track, produced by Germany's Mousse T. (known for work with Randy Crawford and Tom Jones among others) became the No. 1 dance music cut on the Billboard charts and when Interscope followed it with Ann's sizzling version of the '70s Brainstorm chestnut "Lovin' Is Really My Game" (later revived by Sylvester), the excitement over the imminent release of Ann's second album was understandable especially when that track also reached the top of the dance music charts.
Then, just as everyone was gearing up for the album's release, nothing! "I was surprised at the reaction to those two tracks and having back-to-back No. 1 hits," Ann recalls, "although I didn't think the record company worked them as well as they could.
When we found out that the record company was not going to release another single, we decided to ask for a release from our contract…and especially at my age, that was a nerve-wrecking step!"
Ann says it was "my faith and trust in God" that propelled her to take the bold step of starting her own label, It's Time Child Records with husband-manager Tim Lee. "Once people read in Billboard that Interscope was not releasing my album, we got offers for me to sign with other labels," Ann recalls. "But we felt that this was what we needed to do, to step out on faith and start our own company. That was something Tim and I had talked about for a while: there is so much great talent out there that doesn't fit the mould of what major companies are looking for, age or image-wise. There are a lot of real artists who have been overlooked so we felt that if we had our own label, we could help out other artists as well as put out my music…"
In an unusual step, Interscope agreed that Ann and Tim could license the material she had recorded for her second album and release it on her own label. "It took a lot of hard work and research and favors from friends who educated us in what we needed to do to start our company," Ann says. "Once we got the o.k. from Interscope, we decided that we would do two projects. The first one is "Dance Essentials. Because of the reaction from the dance music community to the two tracks, we felt we could give it a fighting try - putting together mixes of different tracks from the album and adding a couple of remixes of songs from my first solo album."
The new songs on the CD include "Love Is What We Need" and "Lovin' Is Really My Game" plus "Let Your Will Be Done," and "Hold On" and "Can I Get A Witness" (both from the "I'm Here For You" album), with remixes by such folks as Steve Hurley, DJ Mijango, Xavier 'X-Man' Smith and Mousse T. Ann explains that her decision to do "Lovin' Is Really My Game" was inspired by producer Brian Alexander Morgan. "He was in Atlanta [which is where I live]," Ann notes, "and he was going to do a project of his own. He knew the Brainstorm version and he said that whenever he heard the song, he thought of me. He said he just wanted to hear my voice on a track he done of the tune…and that's how it came to be a part of my album. I was more familiar with Sylvester's version and he was so prominent in the dance music community, it seemed like a great tribute to him for me to re-do it. I just felt that people would remember the song and then there were some who would be hearing it for the first time…"
In addition to "Dance Essentials," the other project that will be coming out on It's Time Child Records is the balance of the music from the shelved Interscope album along with some newly recorded material. One of the standouts from the original sessions is the song "Put It On Paper," a duet with the Reverend Al Green recorded at Philadelphia International's studios. "Working with the Reverend Green was an incredible experience," says Ann. "Watching a legend like him in the studio was great. We song each verse separately then we did the chorus together and the chemistry was amazing! He is still as soulful as the first time I heard him sing - the epitome of soul!"
The same could be said of Ann, whose activities in the past few years have included touring in a number of different musical plays (most notably, "I Know I've Been Changed," "What A Woman Will Do For Love" and "Why Did I Get Married"), doing some solo performances and a recent trip to Japan. She's also contributed to some other folks' projects, being featured on rapper Jadakiss' new album with the song "Keep Your Head Up" and working with producers The Basement Boys on a track for the group Jasper Street, who are doing material that Ann says, "reminds me of the early Sounds Of Blackness work."
For her part, Ann is excited about the launch of her label and the opportunities it will present for her and for others. "We came up with the name one day when Tim and I were talking about whether I should sign with another major company. I just turned to him and said, 'it's time, child for us to put our energies into our own company rather than going through the same thing we did before.' We're just taking it one day at a time but it feels so good to be stepping out on faith!"
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.