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Sophisticated Lady: Phyllis Hyman’s Arista Debut Is Expanded By SoulMusic Label

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Phyllis Hyman - SomewhereWhen Phyllis Hyman took her own life on June 30, 1995, one of the most potent, poignant voices in soul music was silenced.  A singer as well as a Tony Award-nominated actress, Hyman did leave behind a small but important discography of eight studio albums, which has since been bolstered by posthumous releases.  Indeed, it’s understandable why “new” recordings from the expressive vocalist are so sought after.  While the native Philadelphian never had a commercial pop breakthrough, notching far more successes on the R&B charts, she could inimitably make both pain and pleasure real with her effortless delivery and crystalline tone.  SoulMusic Records, an imprint of the Cherry Red Group, has recently reissued Hyman’s 1979 Arista Records debut Somewhere in My Lifetime in an expanded edition that retains the two bonus tracks included on U.S. label Reel Music’s previous reissue, and adds three more.

Hyman wasn’t thrilled, to say the least, when Clive Davis’ Arista label purchased her contract from the foundering Buddah Records.  She was a big fish in the small pond of Buddah, where she had released two albums to little fanfare.  From the start, Hyman was right at home in the emerging Quiet Storm format, but also deftly traversed the dance and jazz realms, too.  The first of her Buddah efforts, Phyllis Hyman, featured her rendition of Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s “I Don’t Want to Lose You,” as well as Thom and Leroy Bell’s “Loving You – Losing You.”  Her affinity with the Philadelphia soul pioneer’s music was evident as early as 1976 when she made her first major splash as vocalist on Norman Connors’ version of Bell and Creed’s “Betcha by Golly Wow.”  Bell would later produce Hyman at both Arista and Philadelphia International as well as on his soundtrack to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.  Her sophomore Buddah LP, Sing a Song, only saw U.K. release, and Clive Davis saw it as the perfect entrée for Hyman onto his U.S. label roster – with a few changes.

Davis retooled Sing a Song’s original production by Skip Scarborough and [Hyman’s then-husband] Larry Alexander, dropping three of their tracks from the album and adding four new ones.  Three of the four were produced by T. Life, fresh off his successes with Evelyn “Champagne” King, and the fourth was the work of a hitmaking team with close ties to Arista: Barry Manilow and Ron Dante.   Taking its cue from the Jesus Alvarez ballad produced by Manilow and Dante, the album was retitled Somewhere in My Lifetime.

After the jump, we have more details, a full track listing and order link for the expanded Somewhere in My Lifetime!

Six tracks from Sing a Song made the cut for Davis’ vision including the funky, uptempo “Living Inside Your Love from Scarborough’s pen, and the impassioned “Gonna Make Changes.”  The latter was Hyman’s own slow-burning composition, dedicated to activist Angela Davis.  Jazz piano great Herbie Hancock made a special, impromptu appearance on the track, although the always-exacting Hyman initially wanted his contribution removed from the LP!  Another holdover from Sing a Song showed off the theatrical side of Hyman’s talent, which she later exploited to Tony-nominated fame in the Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies.  The melancholy, evocative “Here’s That Rainy Day” was introduced in the 1953 production of Carnival in Flanders, but the Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke tune quickly found new life as a jazz staple.  Hyman’s reading was elegant, restrained and spare, with just Monty Alexander’s piano as accompaniment.

Clive Davis assigned the recent Exile hit “Kiss You All Over” to T. Life for a sexy makeover, and it was selected to open Somewhere in My Lifetime.  T. Life (born Theodore Life, Jr.) brought his own “So Strange,” a brassy, uptempo track aimed squarely at the club crowd but infused with jazzy scat.  “Lookin’ for a Lovin’” was his third production, and was another exciting, forthright come-on in the mode of “Kiss You All Over.”

It’s surprising that the lush ballad “Somewhere in My Lifetime,” produced by Manilow and Dante, failed to chart on the pop side but reached No. 12 R&B.  Jesus Alvarez’ song is pure, pristine pop, and led to Manilow’s subsequent production for Arista of another great soul diva, the legendary Dionne Warwick.  ”Somewhere” is in the mold of Manilow’s own compositions, giving opportunity for Hyman to modulate and build to an emotional crescendo.  Manilow and future David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer played piano on the track, arranged by Manilow (rhythm track) and Dick Berkhe (horns and strings).  Manilow and Dante supported and gave breathing room for Hyman’s sensual vocal with their immaculate production.  Hyman was later incensed to find that Clive Davis first intended the song for Gladys Knight, which isn’t surprising, given its similarities to Knight’s hit “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”  But hand-me-down or otherwise, Hyman delivered a powerful vocal to match the dramatic arrangement, making for one of the album’s high points.

In his 2013 memoir The Soundtrack of My Life, Davis reflects, “I always wished there were a better solution to the Phyllis Hyman situation. Phyllis did work with talented producers we suggested…but basically she was unhappy with the material.  Unfortunately the songs she favored were not at all radio friendly.  Phyllis was strikingly attractive with a big, expressive voice…but it was never fulfilling for Buddah or us [at Arista].  She did have great potential, but it was never reached to the real satisfaction of anyone.”  Following her departure from the label, though, she did return to duet with Barry Manilow on his 1987 Swing Street album.

SoulMusic’s CD reissue is the first to restore the three songs cut from Sing a Song: “Sweet Music,” “Love Is Free,” and its title track.  Ironically, “Sing a Song” was co-written by Earth Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey, though it otherwise has no relation to EWF’s own hit entitled “Sing a Song.”  The new reissue adds up to the first complete release of Sing a Song/Somewhere in My Lifetime.  It also holds over the two 12-inch mixes previously included on Reel Music’s 2010 CD.  A. Scott Galloway, who wrote the exemplary notes for the 2010 disc, has adapted his essay for inclusion here and has added terrific new quotes from Ron Dante, Barry Manilow and others.

The expanded Somewhere in My Lifetime, remastered by Alan Wilson, is available now, and can be ordered at the link below!

Phyllis Hyman, Somewhere in My Lifetime: Expanded Edition (Arista LP AL0-4202, 1979 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5092, 2013) (Amazon U.K.)

  1. Kiss You All Over
  2. Somewhere in My Lifetime
  3. Lookin’ for a Lovin’
  4. The Answer is You
  5. So Strange
  6. Gonna Make Changes
  7. Living Inside Your Love
  8. Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)
  9. Soon Come Again
  10. Here’s That Rainy Day
  11. So Strange (12-Inch Mix) (Arista SP-42, 1979)
  12. Kiss You All Over (12-Inch Mix) (Arista SP-42, 1979)
  13. Sweet Music
  14. Love is Free
  15. Sing a Song

Tracks 13-15 from Sing a Song, Buddah LP BDLP-4058, 1978

Written by Joe Marchese

April 29, 2013 at 10:09

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