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Reviews: First Family of Soul – Rare Albums From Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, Cissy Houston Reissued and Expanded

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If there’s such a thing as a First Family of Soul, it might as well be the combined Houston/Warwick clan.  Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1933, Emily “Cissy” Drinkard sang gospel with her family as part of The Drinkard Singers, which counted Cissy’s sister Lee Warrick among its members.  Marie Dionne Warrick was born in 1940 to Lee and her husband Mancel; Delia Mae “Dee Dee” Warrick followed in 1942.  Though The Drinkard Singers remain an important part of the history of gospel music, said to have recorded the very first gospel album on a major label (1959’s A Joyful Noise on RCA Victor), could Cissy and Lee have imagined the success that their daughters would have had?  Dionne Warwick – her new surname having been created by a record label misspelling – ranks second only to Aretha Franklin as the most charting female in pop history, with 56 singles on the Hot 100 between 1962 and 1998.  Cissy’s daughter Whitney Houston, of course, made history of her own, cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most-awarded female singer of all time and also the first to chart seven consecutive chart-topping singles!  Cissy Houston, to this day, continues to perform and inspire audiences wherever she goes.

Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records has just celebrated this true First Family of Soul with three remarkable new releases: the first-ever CD reissues of Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick’s 1977 A Man and a Woman and Dee Dee Warwick’s 1969 Foolish Fool, plus a deluxe, expanded edition of Cissy Houston’s 1970 Presenting Cissy Houston.  Taken together, these three albums represent a mini-history of American soul music.  Hit the jump and we’ll individually explore each of these seminal releases!

Dee Dee Warwick, Foolish Fool (Expanded Edition) (Mercury SR 61221, 1969 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5053, 2012)

Long before the world knew Dionne Warwick, she and sister Delia (later Dee Dee) were members of The Gospelaires, the Apollo Theatre amateur night winners who soon went professional as in-demand background singers.  (The Gospelaires later morphed into The Sweet Inspirations, of which Cissy Houston was a member.)  After some one-off singles, some produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Dee Dee signed with Mercury Records in 1964, just as Dionne was climbing the charts with songs like “Walk On By.”  She was assigned to the label’s Blue Rock subsidiary and even was dispatched to the U.K. to record for Mercury affiliate Philips, under the aegis of Dusty Springfield’s producer and arranger, Johnny Franz and Peter Knight.  Though she scored some minor hits and introduced a couple of songs turned into hits by other artists (“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “You’re No Good,” the latter in her pre-Mercury period), Dee Dee remained, commercially speaking, in her older sister’s shadow.  But she was very much her own artist.  Foolish Fool, her sophomore LP, shows off Dee Dee’s many sides, although its grab-bag nature may have been a liability to its success.  Whereas Dionne had Burt Bacharach and Hal David providing an instantly recognizable musical signature, Dee Dee was teamed with numerous producers, and the LP assembled from a few years’ worth of recordings with Ed Townsend, Johnny Franz, Jerry Ross, Lou Courtney and even the team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

Still, from the opening track, the full range of Dee Dee Warwick is on display.  Her voice was huskier than her sister’s; if Dionne vocally epitomized cool sophistication, Dee Dee’s burnished tones oozed intensity.  What she shared with Dionne was passion and a gift for interpretation.  Her songs were more overtly R&B-influenced than Dionne’s pop dramas, but there seemed to be no style Dee Dee couldn’t master.  Ed Townsend’s “Foolish Fool” got to No. 14 R&B/No. 57 pop, with Dee Dee’s vocals at boiling point.  She doesn’t enter the song until nearly 45 seconds in, but both song and vocalist cut to the chase: “Foolish fool…if she thinks she can take you from me…she’s got to be a foolish, foolish, foolish….fool!”  Each repetitive line is delivered in a more fiery style than the last, until the song’s final, throbbing notes.  Its three-and-a-half minutes smolder.  On the other end of the spectrum is “When Love Slips Away,” produced and arranged by Jerry Ross and Jimmy Wisner, respectively.  Warwick rides the killer groove of Wisner’s yearning arrangement, and her vulnerability registers clearly: “What can you do, what can you say, when you find love slipping away?”  She caresses the word “love” tenderly with just the right air of resignation.  The same Ross/Wisner team supplied Dee Dee with “Don’t You Ever Give Up On Me” with its danceable beat and powerful brass.

Warwick spent a great deal of time in Philadelphia, both with Ross and Wisner and the up-and-coming production team of Gamble and Huff.   “It’s Not Fair,” written by Gamble and Thom Bell, and arranged by Joe Renzetti , has a “Walk On By” vibe.  That’s no surprise, given Bell’s admiration for Burt Bacharach. But the song also bears the hallmarks of the soul-meets-orchestral-pop style Bell would perfect just a couple of years later.  Bacharach himself is represented with “Alfie” from the London sessions.  Recorded after Cilla Black’s hit version but before Dionne’s, Dee Dee’s vocal is typically peerless but the ornate arrangement doesn’t allow much room for it to breathe.  Based on the powerful vocals, two songs here were likely very personal to Dee Dee.  On the inspirational “Thank God,” she was backed by a Teaneck, New Jersey choir; on “Don’t Pay Them No Mind,” also recorded by the iconoclastic Nina Simone, the singer asserts her support for an ostracized couple.

SoulMusic Records’ reissue marks the very first time on CD for Foolish Fool, and it’s been expanded with five bonus tracks.  Both sides of two non-LP singles (1969’s “Next Time (You Fall in Love)” b/w “Ring of Bright Water” and 1973’s “All That Love Went to Waste” b/w “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do”) have been appended, plus the non-LP A-side “I (Who Have Nothing)” also from 1969.  A total of three tracks are brand new to CD on this release.  What’s missing?  A few more non-LP single sides are absent: “House of Gold,” “Locked in Your Love,” “We’ve Got Everything Going For Us,” “Girls Need Love.”  All of these were issued in the years before Foolish Fool and paired with songs that eventually made the LP. (“Locked in Your Love” and “Girls Need Love” both appear on I Want to Be with You: the Mercury-Blue Rock Sessions from 2001.  “I (Who Have Nothing)” was the product of a session with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers as arranger.  Although Medley and Warwick clashed, the result is a funky slab of pure rhythm and blues.

Reissue producer David Nathan supplies the essay for this reissue, and the booklet also includes label scans and both sides of the original LP cover.  Dionne Warwick has also contributed new reminisces of her beloved, late sister to the liner notes.  Sound quality is variable; issues have plagued past releases of Dee Dee’s Mercury material as well.  But the value of these recordings outweighs other considerations.  This is a captivating collection of top-drawer soul from an all-too-unknown talent.  And wouldn’t it be nice if Soul Music opts to reissue Dee Dee’s first Mercury long-player and later albums for labels including Atco and RCA, as well…!

Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick, A Man and a Woman (ABC/Hot Buttered Soul AB-996-2, 1977 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5055, 2012)

“If any of the songs become familiar to your ear as we’re doing them, we want you to feel free to just open your mouths up and let some of the words fall on out of it!”  And so it was when Dionne Warwick met Isaac Hayes at the crossroads of soul and showbiz, captured in 1977 as a 2-LP set entitled A Man and a Woman, finally available in its CD premiere from SoulMusic Records.  As Warwick continues to tour in her 50th anniversary in show business, she’ll still introduce her program with a variation of those words, and indeed, the songs in her rich repertoire are as familiar today as they were in 1977.  She found an unexpected if sympathetic match in Isaac Hayes, the prolific songwriter of many of Stax Records’ most enduring hits, who had reintroduced himself as the Black Moses.  Clad in a flowing robe or bare-chested with gold chains, and ready to sing the gospel of soul music, Hayes found a new audience with his groundbreaking productions that stretched the boundaries of R&B.  Hayes had transformed many of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David-penned songs associated with Warwick – “Walk On By,” “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” “The Look of Love,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” – into cosmic soul excursions, frequently lengthy and deeply sensual.  So while Warwick and Hayes’ approaches were completely different, they found common ground which they exploited to the fullest in this concert.

A Man and a Woman stands apart for its unique repertoire, including many covers of songs by other artists and eschewing a number of the singers’ signature songs.  Even when those familiar classics appear, there’s a twist; on an extended medley of “Walk On By” and “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” Dionne sings Isaac’s arrangement of the former as he intones the latter, laying on the hot buttered soul to boiling point.  A similar juxtaposition occurs on a slow-burning medley of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (another pop chestnut which Hayes had extended to almost 20 minutes in length in his studio recording!) with “I Say a Little Prayer,” sung as a ballad.  (This medley has also been performed by Warwick with Glen Campbell, and was also recorded by Campbell and Anne Murray.)  This adventurous spirit characterizes the choice of material on the 2-LP set, now presented on one CD.   “A little bit of he, and a little bit of me,” Warwick succinctly described the concert in her onstage banter.

The format of the concert tour, recorded at its final stop at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, featured both artists’ own rhythm sections and background singers along with a string section.  It allowed for both artists to perform solos (Isaac’s impassioned readings of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and his own “Chocolate Chip,” Dionne’s saucy “Can’t Hide Love” and a frantic run through her chart-topping “Then Came You”) as well as duets.  There’s a colossal 7-song, 14-minute medley of hits from The Captain and Tennille, The O’Jays, Natalie Cole and KC and the Sunshine Band, plus a hyper-charged take on The O’Jays’ “Unity” and a delicious blend of Morris Albert’s deathless “Feelings” with Frankie Valli’s sweet “My Eyes Adored You.”  What strikes one most about these songs is how compatible the two vocalists are, and how Warwick could maintain her natural grace and poise while still cutting loose to match Hayes in sheer sensuality.  The audience, naturally, ate up their interplay on Hayes’ own “Body Language.”  ” During Hayes’ “Come Live with Me,” the Black Moses’ whispers even elicit audience screams!  He, too, takes the final song on the album with the funk attack of “Chocolate Chip,” exhorting that “you ain’t never had a n—-r” like me; in his detailed liner notes, David Nathan points out that Hayes’ language barely caused a stir in front of the predominantly African-American audience.

In the notes, Nathan also refers to songs performed but not included on the original LP (including Warwick’s “A House is Not a Home” and Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft”) but it’s not made clear whether these were recorded or still exist in the vaults at Universal, the successor to ABC Records.  Nathan also reveals that 25 seconds of applause was shortened from Hayes’ closing “Chocolate Chip” to allow the album to fit on one CD!  But you might well continue the applause yourself for this first CD release of this rare album from two consummate titans of soul.

Cissy Houston, Presenting Cissy Houston (Expanded Edition) (Commonwealth United/Janus LP JLS-3001, 1970 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5054, 2012)

SoulMusic’s expanded edition of Presenting Cissy Houston is actually a reissue of a reissue, its contents having previously been released in 1995 as Midnight Train to Georgia: The Janus Years.  But the new edition upgrades the sound on a few tracks and includes both the original liner notes and updates, making for a fine introduction, or reintroduction, to the solo music of Cissy Houston.  Even if Houston’s own considerable successes were eclipsed by those of her late daughter Whitney, her musical legacy has never been in doubt.  Although the nine songs on Presenting are pretty standard repertoire for an album circa 1970, nobody would ever describe Cissy Houston’s voice as “pretty standard.”

At the core of this reissue is the original Presenting LP, arranged by Bert DeCoteaux and originally issued on Commonwealth United Records.  When the label folded, Houston’s contract was sold to Janus Records, an experience that the artist relates “wasn’t nice at all…I was very unhappy with the situation.” The material on Presenting was entirely cover versions, many of which were familiar songs with a twist.

Whereas Cissy’s niece Dionne Warwick’s 1966 “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” simmered with pain, Cissy’s own rendition is up-tempo and almost swaggering over a percolating groove.  This is one lady who’s going to pick up the pieces of this failed relationship!  She also revisits her famous niece’s catalogue on another underrated Bacharach and David song, “This Empty Place,” in an arrangement that too takes liberties with Bacharach’s original time signatures.  Bacharach had employed Cissy on countless sessions over the years, including for the original “This Empty Place,” and she lent her lead vocals to his 1971 A&M self-titled album, as well.

DeCoteaux offers a Bacharach-esque arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We,” sensitively sung by Cissy, alongside more offbeat choices like Melanie Safka’s “Any Guy.”  Cissy revisits Hayes and Porter’s “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” which she had previously recorded with the Sweet Inspirations, and tackles the iconic “Be My Baby” in a nicely stripped-down version.  The most intense track is “He-I Believe,” the album’s closing statement from the longtime Minister of Music at Newark, New Jersey’s New Hope Baptist Church.

An impressive 12 bonus tracks drawn from related singles (produced by a variety of personnel including DeCoteaux with Cissy, Sonny Limbo and Don Davis) include an emotive cover of Tim Hardin’s “How Can We Hang On To a Dream,” Ed Townsend’s strong “I Love You” and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s funky “It’s Not Easy.”  Tony Hester’s “Nothing Can Stop Me” has an understated Philly soul vibe.  Cissy’s take on Joe South’s “Down in the Boondocks” offers a gender spin on Billy Joe Royal’s familiar hit.  Most interesting to collectors might be Cissy’s original version of Jim Weatherly’s “Midnight Train to Georgia.”  When Gladys Knight and the Pips hit with their later recording, Cissy recalls in David Nathan’s liner notes that “if Janus had pushed it a lot more, it could definitely have been a hit for me…I remember thinking, ‘I’ll be damned, I knew the song was a hit song!’”  Her relaxed take lacks the energy and indeed, commercialism, of the Pips’ call-and-response and woo-woos but compensates with a beautifully restrained vocal.

The booklet includes, from 1995, thoughts from two of Cissy’s biggest fans: a brief note from Whitney Houston and a longer recollection from Luther Vandross.  Dionne Warwick offers a tribute from 2012 to her Aunt Cissy, as well.  As with the other two titles in this collection, Alan Wilson has remastered all tracks.  Presenting Cissy Houston is ripe for rediscovery.

All three titles from SoulMusic Records are available now!

Written by Joe Marchese

May 30, 2012 at 13:09

One Response

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  1. Notice John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham’s drumming on D’yer Mak’er is identical to the drumming on Dee Dee’s Foolish Fool


    June 1, 2012 at 10:11

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