December 2017: Reissue Reviews

December 2017: Reissue Reviews

PHYLLIS HYMAN: DELIVER THE LOVE: THE ANTHOLOGY (SoulMusic Records)

Following on from a trio of her re-issued albums on SoulMusic Records, here’s the next, focusing on the Pittsburgh-born Ms Hyman’s Buddah and Arista Records era, a rich period in her recording career, lovingly encompassing two CDs. It’s a totally biased review this time because there’s very little not to like here from a lady who was taken from us far too early, yet whose voice and music continues to make her presence felt in our lives, and through compilations like this, new audiences will be attracted to rejoice in her sophisticated vocal styling that elevated her well above others.

From the opening track “Baby (I’m Gonna Love You)”, you realise you’re in for a very special musical journey.  The title track from her third album, “You Know How To Love Me”, a dancer with a Quiet Storm feel, was one of her several hits, likewise her version of Exile’s “Kiss You All Over” – a cheeky little number from a sensual woman with love in her voice. A song I never tire of listening to since its original outing, having the wow! factor tenfold.  The same feeling envelopes the epic “Loving You, Losing You” featured here in its full 12” single format.  Another that’s never far from my turntable – yup, still playing the vinyl when I can – and, of course, the dynamic,  commanding “Riding The Tiger”, with the final track on the compilation, a take on The Spinners’ “I Don’t Want To Lose You” which is pure magic to these ears.

Alongside the solo hits, there’s a selection of stunning duets and pairings, like the awesome “Can’t We Fall In Love Again” and “We Both Need Each Other” with Michael Henderson;  the utterly irrepressible “Betcha By Golly Wow” with Norman Connors, and their often overlooked “Just Imagine”.  From the Broadway musical “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies”, the standard “In A Sentimental Mood” which earned Phyllis a Tony nomination during 1981, stands tall next to the dance hits.  What more can I say?  Pure perfection from start to finish.

Rating: 10

RUBY TURNER: LIVIN’ A LIFE OF LOVE – THE JIVE ANTHOLOGY 1986-1991  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Released alongside Phyllis Hyman’s magnificent “Deliver The Love:The Anthology” comes this compilation from Ruby Turner, one of the UK’s most celebrated of soul stylists. Focusing on her stay with Jive Records, where her debut album, “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” in 1986, here’s the sultry, smooth duet with Jonathan Butler, a take on the Staples’ “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”, her first UK top thirty entrant.  Among the three extracted singles from this album was her amazing interpretation of “I’d Rather Go Blind”, a resounding highlight in her live performances.  Both are included here, likewise six tracks from her second album from 1988, “The Motown Songbook” which, upon its original release, I treated quite warily yet grew to enjoy. A brave move by anyone, but recruiting the help of the Four Tops on “Baby I Need Your Loving” was a stroke of genius.  Their warm support voices just naturally melted with the lady’s soulful delivery.  Then the blissful unions of The Temptations with her on “Just My Imagination”, and Jimmy Ruffin for “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”, were inspiring.  This latter title and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” both dented the chart, while the mother album shot into the top thirty, once again re-affirming Ruby’s selling power as an A-line artist. Born in Montego Bay, as a child she moved with her family to Birmingham during 1967. Raised on music, she secured her Jive recording contract after a stint as a backing vocalist for Culture Club – and never looked back.  Her third album, “Paradise” launched in 1989, is also represented here via seven tracks including the stylish “It’s Gonna Be Alright” which, incidentally, hit the top of the American R&B listing, making her one of the few British acts to do so.  Four other titles followed, with the album’s title from the “Dancin’ Thru The Dark” movie, being one.  And finally, half a dozen songs have been liberated from Ruby’s last Jive album “The Other Side” to round off this extremely compelling compilation.  On a personal note, more so than usual,  I absolutely love her version of “Only Women Bleed” – the song itself is awesome, thought provoking, and, oh my,  those lyrics….

As well as singing, Ruby’s unique talents have been recognised on television and in films, like “Hotel Babylon” and “Love Actually” respectively.  She’s also trod the boards in London’s West End, being nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for her role in “Simply Heaven”.  Musically speaking though, she’s found the perfect niche by working with Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – a job for life I’d have thought.  Having said that, I’ve a feeling this Anthology may surprise some folks who, perhaps only associate Ruby with Mr Holland, not realising she has per own catalogue behind her.  My, aren’t they in for a satisfying, exciting musical adventure!

Rating: 9

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: A BRAND NEW ME:THE COMPLETE PHILADELPHIA SESSIONS  (REAL GONE MUSIC)

A very late review here as somehow the CD got lost in the pile of paperwork on my desk.  But, hey, better late than never, as they say: whoever ‘they’ are. Knowing the bulk of the songs inside out from listening to the original versions back in the day on vinyl release, one now wonders why tamper with perfection?  Anyway, when I first played “ A Brand New Me” , one track always skipped over was the album’s actual title because I loathed it, and even Dusty couldn’t change my mind.  So how sad is that.  However,  the remaining lazy paced material, with her warm, soulful vocals easily followed her groundbreaking “Dusty In Memphis”. Not to out do it, of course, as that was an impossibility, but rather to show that teaming up with Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, who would later mastermind the Sound of Philadelphia, was a brilliant move.  The first ten tracks here epitomise the best of that coupling, while the seven extra titles, destined for a second album which Dusty couldn’t fulfil due to other commitments, appeared to have been abandoned at birth until the CD era began in earnest. From “Never Love Again” and “Bad Case Of The Blues” we’re transported back to the day when Dusty was at her very finest, as she effortlessly and emotionally sang her way through sweeping, sympathetic melodies, leaving a slight change of tempo to take over with the upbeat “Lost” and its compelling chorus. With “Joe” she meanders into a mellowness that is almost poignant to listen to, leaving “Let’s Get Together Soon” – which originally closed side one of the vinyl release and included Dusty coughing (and in tune) – to show a buoyant singer, despite her feeling ‘she could have done better’.

Tracks not featured on the 1970 release, are confusing.  “I Wanna Be A Free Girl”, where Thom Bell partnered Linda Creed for the first time to write, the mood changes to a more biting sound against positive lyrics of being free to see the world. The complex “Something For Nothing” would worry any singer, but Dusty did it, against a backdrop of swirling orchestra, later lending itself as an instrumental for MFSB.  It’s clear why Dusty intended to re-cut her vocals on “Summer Love” but perhaps even that wouldn’t have saved this mundane track, likewise “Cherished” and “The Richest Girl Alive”. The former being rather jumpy with chord changes and, of course, high notes don’t become her, while the latter skips along and is far too twee for the likes of this fan.  The closing track here, the previously unreleased “Sweet Charlie” is softly presented, haunting even, lacking that midas touch associated with the recording sessions for “A Brand New Me”.  I’m sure Dusty would have preferred it to remain unissued. Anyhow, as the song was never finished, it appears the backing track was later utilised on Jackie Moore’s version.

Although not of the same high calibre as “Dusty In Memphis” from a song viewpoint, “A Brand New Me” easily stands on its own merit, showing as it does, her ability, albeit initially rather shakily, to be ranked alongside others in the exclusive soul market. A position she always felt she didn’t deserve. Thom Bell remembered her as “…a very sensitive girl…an angel”.  Kenny Gamble agreed, adding, ”I’m so proud that I was able to work with her…I loved her.”   They should know!

Rating: 8

RAY PARKER JR AND RAYDIO: FOR THOSE WHO LIKE TO GROOVE  (BIG BREAK RECORDS)

Apart from being one of the grooviest guys on this planet, I can’t believe Ray Parker Jr is celebrating 40 years in the business.  My, it seems only like yesterday….

Before enjoying the public spotlight as an artist, Ray was an in-demand guitarist, and was mentored by Stevie Wonder, who invited him to join his band on The Rolling Stones 1972 American tour. (And still the live album hasn’t been commercially released) Writing for Rufus and Chaka Khan, later Barry White, led to Clive Davis offering Ray a contract with Arista Records to record in his own right. He  formed the group Raydio, whereupon  “Jack And Jill” was the first single, followed by “Is This A Love Thing” and “You Can’t Change That” – a trio of gold plated sounds, with dynamic harmonies, solid driving grooves, all wrapped up in a full sophisticated production. Didn’t get much better than this, but, of course, it did when, with a name change to Ray Parker Jr with Raydio during 1980, the hits intensified with “Two Places At The Same Time”, and the R&B chart topper “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)”, among the titles.

Two years after forming Raydio, Ray took the solo trail to release one of the best selling pop singles ever – “Ghostbusters” from the movie of the same name, and debuting here in the rare 12” “Searchin’ For The Spirit” remix.  The song was instantly catchy, memorable and carried a chugging hypnotic beat that wouldn’t let up, elevating Mr Parker Jr into the stratosphere. Even today, once the opening bars are heard, people sing out loud and dance the silly steps; what incredible staying power!  However, soul fans knew there was more to the man than ‘spiritual’ gimmicks because they basked in the soulful glory of his catalogue and his last hits under the Arista umbrella –  “Jamie” and the endearing “Girls Are More Fun”.  Switching to  Geffen, the hits continued, first with “I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone” in 1987 (a top twenty UK hit), followed by his duet with Natalie Cole “Over You”.  As this CD’s title indicates, this is the essential collection for any fan. Covering 35 tracks and an interview with the man himself, the many aspects of Ray’s talent spanning dance, soul and funk, have been given a new lease of life.  And what a joy it is!

Rating: 9

JACKIE MOORE: I’M ON MY WAY  (BBR)

Produced by Philly main man Bobby Eli, this debut set by Southern Soul songstress Jackie Moore, for Columbia Records kicks off with the top fifty 1979 UK hit “This Time Baby”.  Sadly, it was her only one, but the driving dance floor favourite is crammed with hit ingredients and for a time introduced Jackie to the British mainstream record market.  The album, also issued during 1979, also housed another couple of memorable disco titles, “How’s Your Love Life Baby” and “Wrapped Up In Your Lovin’”. The former pulsates a strong dance delivery, while the latter adds some cheeky funk into the mix, with each holding a catchy chorus.  The only version of “Joe” I’ve heard is Dusty Springfield’s poignant take, but here’s the original with a different, more plush feel. However, both hold that certain magic. Upon its first release, this album charted in the R&B top fifty, and as such would surely qualify for a worthy re-issue as it stood. But no, the BBR guys have gone the extra mile to include six bonus tracks including a 12” remix, single version and instrumental of “This Time Baby” to attract buyers.  It has to be said that Jackie’s warm, soulful voice is so very easy to listen to, adapting as it does effortlessly through disco and ballad – the harder edged tracks and the smooth stylings – which, of course, makes it all the more annoying that her British success was so limited.

Rating: 8

VARIOUS ARTISTS: NORTHERN SOUL’S CLASSIEST RARITIES:VOLUME 6 (KENT)

It’s incredible to believe that songs adopted by a particular market are still relevant today some forty-plus years later. And this record label is a forerunner in the field, dedicated to keeping the sound alive, delivering as it does now a mix of beat and ballad. It’s nearly three years since the last volume in this series, so this 24 track package will, undoubtedly, be welcomed by Northern Soul fans. Kicking in with Peggy Woods’ “Love Is Gonna Get You” (being, I’m told, the correct brass-filled version),  into “You Won’t Say Nothing” from Tamala Lewis, co-penned by George Clinton, and also recorded by The Parlettes, the mood is set.  There’s also a few previously unissued items here, like, the Gene Page arranged “I Only Cry Once A Day Now” from The Fidels, and an alternate version of Maxine Brown’s “One In A Million”. I won’t go into too much detail about the tracks here as this is excellently covered in Ady Croasdell’s accompanying notes.  Although some of the time I’m out of my depth, not having heard of the artists (shame on me) so it’s quite a relief to hear early tracks from later established names like The Detroit Emeralds, J.J. Barnes and, of course, Carla Thomas, who closes the set with “Little Boy” which she remembered was her third single – but was canned.  These compilations are an education for me and, although I may not like all I hear, it’s musical history and as such should be respected.  Or, as Ady noted – “it’s a collection of treasures”.

Rating: 8

JAMES CARR: THE BEST OF JAMES CARR  (GOLDWAX RECORDS – ACE RECORDS)

This twenty tracked CD houses all James’ charting singles, with one in particular at the top of the pile.  His original version of “The Dark End Of The Street”, recorded during 1966,  and later much covered, introduces this collection of songs.  Often revered as one of the greatest vocalists the Southern Soul scene produced, James Carr struggled to enjoy the success of his contemporaries like Otis Redding, yet his limited material recorded for Goldwax is considered to be the musical blue print for the label. Son of a Baptist preacher, James was born in Mississippi, then moved with his family to Memphis.  As a six year old, he sang solos in church, and three years later became a member of the gospel group, The Harmony Echoes.  From here, he branched out as a solo artist, later hooking up with Goldwax Records in 1965.  “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up” was his debut R&B hit, followed by “Love Attack” and “Pouring Water On A Drowning Man”.  However, it’s said James was difficult to work with due to health issues which reflected on his complacent attitude towards his career, perhaps sabotaging his rise to stardom. Another thing, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the somewhat iconic “The Dark End Of The Street”, so what better way to celebrate than with this selection from the underrated, yet pivotal, soul man in the development of Southern Soul.

Rating: 7

Phyllis Hyman:  The Sadness Behind The Soul

Phyllis Hyman: The Sadness Behind The Soul

Renowned writer and author Jeff Vasishta shares his reflections on meeting one of soul music’s true legends, the late and great Phyllis Hyman…

When I finally got to meet the statuesque and sultry R&B singer, Phyllis Hyman I had no idea quite what a revelation the day would be. At school I’d often gazed longingly at her album covers, mesmerized by her sheer beauty. A former leading diva at music mogul Clive Davis’ Arista Records and Broadway Star of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies”, when we met she had long since been eclipsed by younger artists. However, she was still a favorite of the London based magazine for which I wrote and when she won a readers poll in 1993 I was tasked with the job of interviewing her over the phone. The interview turned personal as I asked her about her romantic life.

“I don’t have a boyfriend right now but the electricity bills are paid, if you know what I mean?” she said with a throaty laugh. I didn’t get her cryptic clue.
“A vibrator, Jeff” she spelled out, leaving me speechless. We continued to talk, the usual formality between a journalist and interviewee long since dispensed. I informed her that was due to be New York the following month and she suggested that I call her and we meet for lunch. “My treat,” she said.

I’d seen Phyllis in concert many times before our interview and knew that she no longer resembled her glamorous former self but the teenager in me was elated at the prospect of meeting a singer he’d once idolized. After such a revealing interview I hoped that perhaps we could become good friends. I imagined an expensive Manhattan restaurant where we’d talk late into the afternoon, she regaling me with show-biz anecdotes, touching my hand occasionally.

I called soon after I’d checked in to my New York hotel.
“Who?” came the response after I’d said my name.
“Jeff, the journalist. I interviewed you a few weeks ago,” I repeated disbelievingly. She seemed to have completely forgotten who I was. We’d spoken for over an hour. She’d confided some of her most personal feelings. She told be about her distress when her close friend, songwriter Linda Creed died of cancer shortly after penning one of her signature songs, “Old Friend”. She spoke of her ex-husband and of course her love life. I hung up the hotel phone, convinced that she may have mistaken me for someone else. I called her manager, Glenda who listened to me with, I felt, a sense of resignation. A few minutes later Glenda, called back and told me to head over to Phyllis’ midtown apartment.

I met the singer downstairs in the lobby. At 6ft 2” in flats she wasn’t easy to miss. Instead of inviting me up she suggested I walk with her while she ran some errands. We strolled along Broadway to Times Square. I attempted to start a conversation but it was as if I wasn’t there. She hardly responded. It wasn’t long before she was spotted as she left the bank where she’d deposited a check.

“Oh my God! Phyllis Hyman,” the fan, a black woman in a business pant suit gushed. “I know you hear this all the time but I adore your music,” she went on. Other people slowed their strides, aware that someone famous was in their midst but not exactly sure who. “Girl, it’s Phyllis Hyman, the best singer ever!” the woman exclaimed to a passer by. Hyman seemed bothered by the adulation and responded with the merest of acknowledgements, trying to brush her admirer off. I couldn’t help but think that Phyllis could have been warmer, said a thank-you and engaged her in a little conversation. When we left she turned to me and said, “She needs to check herself, running up on me like that.” By now I also got the feeling that Phyllis didn’t want me around her either. She’d barely said a word. But it wasn’t her aloofness that struck me on that cloudy Spring afternoon. It was that she seemed so out of it. Stoned, high, vacant. Something wasn’t right. The only time she seemed interested in anything around her was when she spotted jazz drummer Max Roach on the street. She introduced herself. Roach was polite but didn’t seem to know who she was. Then, bizarrely as we passed someone handing out flyers for a strip club with pictures of nude women, Phyllis took some, looked at them and put them in her pocket.

I followed meekly behind her as we approached her apartment building. I felt like I was wearing a pair of too tight jeans on a scorching day at the beach. I wanted to get away from her so I could relax. But what could I say? We rode the elevator in silence to her apartment. It was small and messy with old style parquet floors. Phyllis went straight to the fridge taking out a gallon bottle of Coke, taking slugs without a glass. She then sat down on a bench in front of a wall of photos of her in her scintillating ’70’s and ’80’s prime, all disco gloss, legs, lips and hair. The contrast couldn’t have been more marked. She was swaying on the seat, overweight, slurring her words, her ample chest threatening to spill out. I didn’t know where to look.

“So I’m supposed to get you somethin’ eat something right?” she said, finally acknowledging me.
“Oh no, that’s ok. I ate something earlier,” I bluffed.
“Skinny people always say that,” she said. She stood up, went to a draw and took out a Chinese take out menu and handed it over. “You wanna order?” Earlier I imagined we’d be at a dimly lit five star restaurant. Now I was given a menu with $5 chicken and broccoli to eat alone.
“No that’s ok. I’m really not hungry,” I said.
“Ok. Well I can’t really chat. I’ve got my personal trainer coming over soon,” she said unconvincingly.
I stood up, relieved to have been given an excuse to get out of there. As I walked down the corridor I didn’t feel upset for myself. Just saddened. It was evident that Phyllis Hyman was a desperately unhappy person.

I was living full time in New York a couple of years later when on June 30th 1995 I turned on WBLS to hear the news that she’d committed suicide, an overdose of sleeping pills. It wasn’t her first attempt. I couldn’t say I was that surprised. An excellent biography was published about her 2007, “Strength Of A Woman,” detailing her ongoing battle with drugs, alcohol and her bipolar disorder. It shocked so many people in the music industry because suicides amid black entertainers were so rare. Donny Hathaway, who battled depression and schizophrenia, was the other notable casualty.

Mental illness in black entertainment circles is hardly discussed. In a merciless industry, the ravages of racism, dysfunctional families, corrupt, abusive business practices left many icons clinically depressed and near destitute, hitting the self destruct button hard. It’s often overlooked how many black entertainers die young. It seems like a whole generation has gone prematurely. And now, of course Prince, perhaps the most shocking of all. Scrolling through my iPhone these days can take a toll. Instantly I remember dozens of interviews with so many great artists, some of whom became friends, that are no longer here.

Whenever I hear “You Know How To Love Me” playing on the radio I often think back to my afternoon with Phyllis Hyman and wonder why there has to be so much sadness behind the soul.