GLADYS KNIGHT: THE SOLO COLLECTION EXPANDED EDITIONS (SOULMUSIC.COM RECORDS)
Oh my – how I remember these albums on their first outing, where the elegance of the lady is matched only by her warm, soulful deliveries that cover all emotions, with a defining edge that has often been imitated but never replaced. Gladys’ voice is one of the most recognisable in the business; her personal stylish presentations manifest themselves across most music genres, whether it’s ballad, funk, dance and in between. With the Pips, her Motown history of success and failures is well documented, so let’s get straight to the point with tracks from her two solo albums – “Miss Gladys Knight” released by Buddah in 1978, and “Gladys Knight” from Columbia a year later. “You Bring Out The Best In Me” is a hi-octane dancer which she effortlessly deals with, while the opening track “I’m Coming Home Again” is unpretentious, yet powerful. Against rolling strings that weave across the melody, her sumptuous vocal expressions are softly determined. At the other end of the spectrum, she hits the dancefloor, blasting across the speakers with the brassy “It’s A Better Than Good Time”. Then, hitting you between the eyes, “We Don’t Make Each Other Laugh Anymore” hugs relentlessly at the heart strings. The mournful orchestra tries to placate an almost tortured singer, with the overall effect of a masterpiece. “I Just Want To Be With You” follows along the same lines, except there’s full blooded support vocalists uplifting the chorus: musically mesmerising. There’s little to dislike here, and is a credit to the lady because when she originally recorded this she was locked in legal hassles with record companies, and fielding off multi million dollar law suits. Into the second CD, and a step further into mainstream music. Check out “For All We Know” for instance, it has a free and commercial feel to it. Likewise the two versions of “You Bring Out The Best In Me” and the extended single mix of “It’s The Same Old Song”. “Maybe, Maybe Baby” is an updated take on the B-side of their 1964 Maxx single “Giving Up”. Nice touch. And before that, with its spoken introduction, “Am I Losing You” , a gentle, mid-pacer that is so typically Gladys. Lovely. Informative accompanying booklet with notes penned by the highly respected Charles Waring, rounds off this wonderful re-issue just nicely. Full marks for sure!
TEDDY PENDERGRASS: TEDDY EXPANDED EDITION (BBR)
What a satisfying time I’ve had playing this re-issue over and over. “Teddy”, his third album, followed a pair of platinum releases, and has been called a collection of ‘bedroom ballads’ akin to Marvin’s “Midnight Love” set. Don’t know about that, but can see why the connection was made and will leave it at that. Mr Pendergrass was Philadelphia Records’ biggest star, and this release proves the statement wasn’t misguided. Kicking off with “Come Go With Me”, we’re in for a passionate, emotional ride where his vocal performances can, on occasion, reduce listeners to jelly. Oh my, “Turn Off The Lights” does it for me every time, as he seduces and cajoles against a sweeping melody. Both are flawless examples of the man’s distinctive voice that has graced so many titles. “I’ll Never See Heaven Again” and “All I Need Is You” are further testament of his persuasive ways with their melting lyrics. With its mellow introduction, moving along at an easy pace as the melody takes hold, giving way as the main beat hits the groove, “Set Me Free” is launched. Perhaps the big build up is a little excessive but, I suppose, it does set the scene. The tempo is lifted to a light disco with “If You Knew Like I Do”, while “Do Me” is rather sexy on the funky side. So we’ve got get-down smoothies hand-in-hand with touches of funk/dance, accompanied by the best musicians the record company has to offer, all under the production control of Gamble and Huff, except where indicated on the inlay notes. What more could we ask for?
GROVER WASHINGTON JR.: GROVER LIVE (WIENERWORLD)
To my shame, although in my defence jazz isn’t my first love, I initially came across Grover’s music with “Reed Seed” released via Motown in 1978. Unfortunately, it was a music genre the company was incapable to promoting to its fullest extent although jazz fans supported this and his subsequent Motown releases. So, here we have one of his last live performances recorded at the Paramount Centre For The Arts in New York during 1997, and it’s thanks to his wife Christine and Jason Miles (who restored the DAT tapes of the show) that we’re able to hear this highly influential jazz player at work. Kicking off with “Winelight” into “Take Five” and “Soulful Strut”, this has a calming effect as there’s nothing rushed; even Grover introducing his group is laid back. This 80-minute set is a showcase to Grover at his career peak; he was one of the most popular saxophonists of our time and considered by many to be a forerunner in bringing jazz into the commercial arena. An interesting eight-song medley is included here that includes “Black Forest”, “Inner City Blues” and “Jamaica”. I’m not a great lover of ‘live’ CDs but have to say, the sound here is excellent; almost up to studio standard. This is a wonderful tribute to this late musician accompanied by an informative booklet, with notes penned by a certain Mr N!
VARIOUS ARTISTS: SUPER DUPER LOVE (KENT)
Kent Records once again introduce the Mainstream label, following their well-received first compilation. This New York indie made inroads during the seventies embracing R&B names like Freddie Scott, Little Richard and Sugar Billy whose driving “Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin’ On Me)” starts this musical visit. Afrique follow with a beaty “Soul Makossa”, the label’s first major hit swiped from the original by Manu Dibango, while Special Delivery featuring Terry Huff calm the somewhat maddening beat with “The Lonely One”. A haunting, sweeping ballad “I Need Someone” via Linda Perry drifts slowly along, allowing Eleventh Commandment’s “Then I Reach Satisfaction” to raise the mood and rhythm into a mid-paced dancer. Lenny Welch’s “Eyewitness News” is twangy and semi-funky, with Chocolate Syrup’s “Just In The Nick Of Time” simmering away on the back burner with liberal splashes of brass adding a dramatic touch. Little Richard’s “Try To Help Your Brother” is passion personified until the driving beat takes a hold. The smooth delivery of The Dramatics on “Feel It” easily slips into this outstanding compilation. Likewise, the final track, “I Need You Back Home” from Sandra Phillips who’s on the phone talking/whispering to her lover, leaving little to the imagination (my, Millie J would be sooo proud!) and making this ol’ lady blush!
FIVE SPECIAL: FIVE SPECIAL EXPANDED EDITION (BBR)
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here as knew little about these guys. My, what a wonderful musical trip I was destined to take. First released in 1979, this is the first of three albums credited to the group. Hailing from Detroit, they were raised on traditional R&B which they turned into commercial music for the disco market. With Greg Finlay, Steve Harris, Steve Boyd, Mike Petillo and Bryan Banks in the line-up, they tucked in nicely, forging a place for themselves in this lucrative genre. Bryan was, by the way, younger brother of Ron Banks (The Dramatics) who, during the mid-seventies, took them under his wing, by producing their early material. Signing to Elektra Records, and armed with a few of the A-team including Banks and Wayne Henderson, this album was conceived and released. Enter the mix master Rick Gianatos, fresh from huge success with Gene Chandler’s “Get Down” and Edwin’s “Contact”, to steer the group into the dance groove. Check out their first single “Why Leave Us Alone” which wraps itself around the nightclub scene, compelling the body to move with the beat. A change of tempo came with their follow-up single “You’re Something Special”, the only ballad on the album. Not only do the harmonies cleanse the soul, but it treats listeners to a full orchestra weaving its way through the voices. Just smashing! The driving dance/funk with a mid-tempo feel comes alive with “Do It Baby”, while the smooth “It’s A Wonderful Day” and the disco slanted “Rock Dancin’” are heaven sent. Throughout, the standard is high, with strong choruses climaxing the tracks, all delivered with warm, silky harmonies that melt in your mouth. A couple of hiccups but, hey, who’s counting. Recommended for sure.