Motown Spotlight - November 2018

Motown Spotlight – November 2018

I’m a little late with this because I’ve not been at my desk for the last few weeks or so, and then there was a delivery hiccup but, hey, we’re here now with this review of Thelma Houston’s mega release featuring her last four Motown albums on one CD package, courtesy SoulMusic Records. Not only are we treated to the full track listings on “The Devil In Me”, “Ready To Roll”, “Ride The Rainbow” and “Reachin’ All Around”, but also bonus titles and extended editions like 1977’s non-album flipside “If You Won’t Let Me Walk On The Water”, and 1978’s “Love Masterpiece” from the “Thank God It’s Friday” movie. Phew…

As you know, Thelma has been performing for over forty-seven years, recorded more than twenty-three albums, and is still wowing audiences with her “Motown Experience”, a ninety-minute tribute to the music of Motown and More. “My show is about celebrating love”, she says. “With the backdrop of Motown, I take you on a passionate journey that will have you singing along from the beginning to the end.” Featuring twenty-plus Motown songs, Thelma takes her audiences on a musical and inspirational journey chronicling her career, and from what I’ve seen on her website, it’s a pretty exciting adventure too. She also pays tribute to Jimmy Webb through the glorious “Sunshower” album and visits her gospel roots. “You are never too old to follow your dreams!” Of course, we’re hoping that one day we’ll get to see this show over here but, for now, she’s committed to performing in America through to the new year.

While at Motown, Ms Houston may not have been given the best material but she certainly turned around any inferior tracks, personalising them by injecting her stylish presentations into the grooves, bringing the songs alive. She easily adapts from ballad to dance, and, believe me, there’s a few monster cuts across these four albums. Disc one, kicks off with “I’m Here Again” – the follow-up to “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, although her duet with Jerry Butler, “It’s A Lifetime Thing” was squashed in between. “At the time that song (“I’m Here Again”) happened I was changing labels [at Motown] and that had an effect” she told me. “It was manufactured to be the same as ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ and I didn’t really like it but felt obligated to do it. Then after that was ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ which I thought was a far better song. You think about things like this, try to analyse and figure out why something happens, but in the end you decide no one thing can be blamed.” Other titles to mention are the mesmerising “Baby, I Love You Too Much”, and the absolute highlight “Your Eyes”. A sizzling ballad; an unrelenting emotional experience, which has been high on my playlist since its original release. An awesome song on so many levels.

>Disc two opens with the afore-mentioned “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning” (from 1979) leading into a couple of the most compelling songs I’ve heard – “I Wanna Be Back In Love Again” and “Imaginary Paradise” – yet there’s the intoxicating “Lies” and “(I’ve Given You) The Best Years Of My Life”. Of her time with the company, Thelma had few regrets, as she explained while still a signed artist. “They are good to me and have taken a genuine interest in me….and they don’t make me do anything I don’t really want to do. ….I wanted to go to acting lessons, and Motown paid for me to do that. I also wanted to do an album in 1975 for Sheffield Lab and they let me. The album was called ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ and I honestly loved doing it.”

I’ve known Ms Houston since the seventies, from our first meeting when we sipped drinks in London’s Serpentine Bar, and to now have her last Motown recordings in one package kinda rounds off that phase in her recording life. As an aside, she looks great and quirky, with her funky hairstyles and glamorous stage gowns. Her cheeky smile and twinkling eyes, and, of course, her voice!

Talking about Ms Houston leads me to the second release I’d like to highlight now – “The Essential Motown Northern Soul” 3-CD set, featuring a staggering sixty-six tracks. As with any compilations like this, it’s a foregone conclusion that fans will have several, if not, the bulk of the tracks. However, for someone like myself this release will save me dipping into other releases like the “Cellarful” series because there’s more than enough here to satisfy my hunger in one listening session. I can quite understand though that some, more in the know than myself, will find this release quite disconcerting, wanting unissued items to replace duplicate titles. It’ll come I’m sure. Obviously I won’t attempt to talk about each title as we’d be here forever and beyond, so will just mention a few.

There’s the familiar titles like the NS Motown anthem, Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” which rightly kicks off the adventure, followed by the Four Tops’ “Something About You” and “I’m Grateful”; Tammi Terrell’s “All I Do Is Think About You” and “Give In, You Just Can’t Win”; the Isley Brothers’ “Tell Me It’s Just A Rumor Baby”; The Velvelettes’ “Lonely, Lonely Girl Am I”; Earl Van Dyke and the Motown Brass’ “6 By 6”; The Undisputed Truth’s “You Got The Love I Need”; Thelma Houston’s “I Ain’t Going Nowhere”; Stevie Wonder’s “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby”…. you get the picture?

Personally speaking, I was overjoyed to see “Why Am I Lovin’ You” from Debbie Dean, and from Patrice Holloway “The Touch Of Venus”, while “Can’t Hold The Feeling Back” and “We’ll Keep On Rolling” are included from her sister Brenda. There’s a couple of interesting slices from The Temptations, “A Tear From A Woman’s Eyes” and “Angel Doll”, alongside a few from Gladys Knight And the Pips, including the mesmerising “No One Could Love You More”. No NS compilation would be complete without Chris Clark, so check out “Something’s Wrong” – you won’t be disappointed. Likewise, Barbara McNair’s “It Happens Every Time” – sheer magic. So with Kim Weston, The Monitors, Al Kent, The Supremes, The Dalton Boys, David Ruffin, Tommy Good, among the other featured artists, this is a well-rounded, thoughtful and entertaining release that, I think, will be welcome in any record collection. However, I have one gripe – there’s no accompanying booklet and, as you know, this annoys the hell out of me!

Let’s move on…with an update of the Motown Museum’s expansion project which began filtering through some months ago. Some of the original plans have been scrapped to be replaced by new conceptual designs and ideas. With over 70,000 visitors a year flooding into Detroit to walk the sacred boards in the Hitsville building, it seemed logical to use this historical site in a redevelopment programme. Just recently, Berry Gordy hosted meetings with Suzanne de Passe and Museum officials, including its CEO Robin Terry (Berry’s great niece) because, with the company’s 60th anniversary looming, plans for the 50,000 square foot complex that will be built around and behind Hitsville, need to be escalated. The plan (at this time) includes transforming the West Grand Boulevard site into a contemporary cultural experience, a cutting-edge complex, with Hitsville being the jewel in the crown. After sitting idle for over a decade, the building was, as you’re aware, taken over by Esther Gordy Edwards, who, with tireless dedication transformed it into a museum in 1985. Berry was intent on keeping his company’s legacy alive by different means and, it appears, creating a museum wasn’t a priority for him. However, his mind was changed when he realised just how important it was to preserve the birthplace of his company.

Financial support for the proposed project was initially pledged by conglomerates like the Ford Motor Company, William Davidson Foundation and the DTE Energy Foundation, but now its drawing interest from out-of-state donors. Although Robin Terry was unable to confirm the targeted timeline in an interview with Brian McCollum in the “Detroit Free Press,” she did confirm the philanthropic momentum was growing. “The next six months are game-changing. People are being extremely generous. The work we’ve been doing, these kinds of gifts, they just take time. And now you’ll start to see (the results)” she told McCollum. With promises of a major album campaign and event in Detroit next year, the highlight of the 60th anniversary will be “Hitsville: The Making Of Motown” which has been filming since early last year. Directed by the London production company Fulwell 73, the film has Berry Gordy’s total support and input, alongside artists and archive footage.

The heart of Motown may have left Detroit during the seventies, but the city never abandoned one of its biggest assets, and that needs to be preserved, as Robin Terry further said. “There’s a legacy that’s been created here that has had tremendous impact, maybe the most profound in our lifetime, on our culture and this world. ….We have to figure out how to translate this important, authentic Detroit story to (the) next generation.”

As exciting as this is, I have to say – what of the UK?

(My sincere thanks to the Detroit Free Press)

 

March 2017: Reissues and New Music Reviews

March 2017: Reissues and New Music Reviews

a-woman417ROZETTA JOHNSON: A WOMAN’S WAY – THE COMPLETE ROZETTA JOHNSON 1963 – 1975 (KENT)

This compilation seems to have slipped through the net and for that my apologies. However, as they say – better late than never. The lady from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who carved a place for herself in music history through her slices of southern soul, is more than amply represented here with her releases from the sixties and seventies. I was surprisingly impressed at the way Rozetta effortlessly wanders through the hopelessness of unreturned love, stirring up a gamut of emotions, while, on the other hand, ruthlessly persuades her listeners that she’s not to be messed with. Or, perhaps she’s a blank canvass that can be coloured in from track to track. Anyway, it seems her first documented single “I Understand My Man” b/w “Willow Weep For Me” was released under the name Rosetta Johnson and the Organettes on NRC, before she switched to the Jessica imprint with “That Hurts”, a more mainstream sound, and “It’s Nice To Know You”. She then left the recording scene behind her to concentrate on live dates until signing with Moonsong/Clintone to score a pair of top three R&B hits with her first two releases, namely “A Woman’s Way” and “Who Are You Gonna Love (Your Woman Or Your Wife)”, written by Sam Dees, with whom she recorded her best work. Alongside regular releases, there’s the extended version of “I’ve Come Too Far With You” complete with alternate vocals, plus previously unheard support and lead vocals on “I Can Feel My Love Comin’ Down”. The fact that Ms Johnson is no longer with us, makes this compilation more vital to her fans, and connoisseurs of authentic soul music.
Rating: 8

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pied-piper419 VARIOUS ARTISTS: PIED PIPER FINALE  (KENT RECORDS)

This is the last in the trilogy of this Pied Piper series, and we have Jack Ashford to thank because the titles come from his  personal collection. Among the gems here is the previously undocumented Lorraine Chandler song “Ease My Mind”, co-penned by the aforementioned Funk Brother and the singer. And it’s quite something too. Jack recruited members of the Funk Brothers to play on these sessions, and, I believe, many of the Pied Piper releases.  Wonder what Berry Gordy made of this!  However, their involvement does make this compilation that more interesting.  I instantly zoned in on the tracks by the Pied Piper Players, notably “The Bari Sax”, with its total funky groove, which kick starts this compilation. The Hesitations’ “Soul Superman”, a much-needed R&B top fifty hit, is equally compelling, plus the couple from The Metros, namely “No Baby” and “Sweetest One”.  Add into the mix Reggie Alexander’s “It’s Better” and Freddie Butler’s “Deserted”; both are prime exponents of a kindred soul spirit.  Then there’s “Gambler’s Blues”, another diamond in the mine. Although this song by Nancy Wilcox was included in the first of this series, the ungraded version here was discovered on master tape in Mr Ashford’s collection.  Ady Croasdell wrote in his excellent CD notes – “The rare soul world is indebted to Jack Ashford, Shelley Haims and the Pied Piper singers, musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters for making such enthralling and inspiring soul music.”  And so say all of us!
Rating: 8

manhattansoul3416VARIOUS ARTISTS: MANHATTAN SOUL 3 (KENT)

This compilation is the ninth of Scepter/Wand and Musicor/Dynamo recordings issued by Kent, and the standard never slips. The two New York labels were linked by Luther Dixon who put Scepter on the success path with the likes of The Shirelles and Dionne Warwick, before switching to Musicor to work with Tommy Hunt and The Platters, among others. So, the resulting compilation covers most musical genres, for instance I’m listening to Johnny Moore’s “Haven’t I Been Good To You” which, for the world, sounds like The Temptations’ “I Know I’m Losing You”. The CD opens with Dan and The Cleancuts’ “Open Up Your Heart (And Let Me In)”, a super smooth, intense soul sound, while the previous unreleased Shirelles’ “Two Stupid Feet” is so cute – and two twee for the ladies who made such a huge name for themselves on the R&B scene. Still smiling! Van McCoy’s “What’s The Matter Baby” is also heard here for the first time. Yet again, it’s a strange one. Lots of galloping music and a piano break. Thankfully, Melba Moore returns to normality with a traditional ballad formula in the shape of “Does Love Believe In Me”. Add these to tracks from Big Maybelle, which sounds a little off key but hey; Billy Adams, Tommy Hunt and Brook Benton, it’s an extremely credible compilation and one that I’ve enjoyed playing, although when I first started out I had a few reservations. Persistence is the key!
Rating: 8

random418RETROSPECTIVE FOR LOVE: RANDOM ACTIVITIES OF A HEART (WORMFOOD RECORDS)
Um, wasn’t quite sure what to expect when this CD arrived as I reckoned it could well be outside my comfort zone. However, there’s something about this new sound that’s captured me, and wanting more. Hailing from Sicily, Davide Shorty (vocalist, musical director and producer) wanted to bring back the love, and to do this gathered around him a family of similarly soul-centric musicians from his homeland, together with others including Parisian co-vocalist Leslie Phillips. The group is now based in London, the obvious place to be seen and heard, and this, their debut release embraces a wide range of genres, from smooth smouldering soul, into a little jazz and slices of hip-hop. I also spotted a smattering of Coldplay melodies in the mix too. Honest. The pace is set with the opening track “The Picture You Show Me”, an easy, almost moody sound, then it goes a little haywire into “Water N Dust” and “Wanna Get To Know Ya”. What follows though is a mass of changing music, covering love lost and found, with some of the music stripped down only to be built up again. The promise of better things to come is so relevant as the listener is lifted into another musical world that’s so easy to get lost in, while enjoying the isolation. No doubt about it, the music is unique, often raw yet crafted with considerable thought, with the sole aim of pushing home a pot pourie of sounds. Well done to all concerned, and this debut is certainly one I’d highly recommend.
Rating: 8

northernsoulreimagined415PAUL STUART DAVIES: NORTHERN SOUL REIMAGINED (PSD)

With support vocals from Annette and Rosalind, the original Vandellas, and the Voice of Africa, Paul Stuart Davies revisits the very heart of the music heaven lovingly tagged by Dave Godin as Northern Soul, with the release of his “Northern Soul Reimagined”. With his interpretations of “Long After Tonight Is All Over” and “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”, a couple of high ranking soul slices, Paul adds a positive, clear attitude as his voice takes command of these classics. Recording live is, I’ve discovered, a rather dicey procedure, but he’s got this covered as well with resulting excitement and atmosphere. Check out “You Don’t Love Me” and, of course, that almighty NS favourite “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” which, of course, is the title of the charity record spearheaded by Paul and featuring, among others, Chris Clark and Tommy Hunt. Recently released, their aim is to raise much needed funds for the Jon Bates appeal. Anyway, back to the subject in hand, “Northern Soul Reimagined” is a brief – yeh, too short Paul! – but, my, did fond memories of my too-rare visits up North return. Am still smiling! (Available from Paul Stuart Davies)
Rating: 7