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Ava Cherry Takes A Ride On A “Streetcar Named Desire”

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Ava Cherry - Streetcar Named Desire“Black people don’t do new wave.  She’s supposed to be doing soul,” Ava Cherry recollected of radio’s reaction to her 1982 Capitol Records single “Love to Be Touched.”  Yet not only did Cherry – the former model, stalwart background vocalist and onetime muse to David Bowie –  do new wave, but she did it with fervor and flair.  With production from Bob Esty (Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” Barbra Streisand’s “The Main Event”), Cherry’s sophomore solo album Streetcar Named Desire, produced by Bob Esty (Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” Barbra Streisand’s “The Main Event”), has just come to CD in a new, deluxe edition from Gold Legion.  It adds one outtake, two bonus remixes and a new essay chockablock with tasty morsels, such as the one above, from the album’s key participants.  Streetcar failed to set the charts on fire all those years ago, but time has finally caught up with Ava Cherry’s genre-bending pop.

That this was no ordinary album was clear from the first notes of an overture-style composition by Mark Isham, “Having Been Near.”  It pointed the way towards his eventual film scores and set the stage for Cherry’s entrance on the album’s title track.  (Isham plays a major role on Streetcar and also closes it with the instrumental bookend “Having Been Far.”)  The entire LP features the music of synth-pop foursome Zoo Drive – Paul Delph (keyboards), John Goodsall (guitar), Doug Lunn (bass) and Ric Parnell (drums).  Esty applied an organic process to both songwriting and recording between himself, Cherry and Zoo Drive, lending Streetcar a feel that sets it apart from many of the era’s more sterile productions.  Despite the prevalent, of-their-time electronic textures, this is a “band” album.  Most of the album’s lyrics were written by Cherry and Esty, with various permutations of the Zoo Drive line-up contributing to the music and/or lyrics of more than half of the album’s tracks.  New wave gloss melds with greasy funk, pure pop, harsh rock, and jazz in the singular arrangements overseen by Esty.   (Cherry is “a post-punk rocker,” opines the critic of the New York Recorder as reprinted here.)  The album’s myriad influences might have worked against its initial chances for success, but in retrospect, they now distinguish it.

Read more after the jump!  Plus: the full track listing and order links!

There’s nary a hint of the tragic Blanche DuBois in Ava Cherry’s empowered lead to “Streetcar Named Desire,” composed by Delph, Goodsall and Lunn.  Its burbling bed of keyboards, taut guitar and bass, and “big eighties” drums create a danceable beat worthy of the lyrical imagery by Cherry and Esty: “Like a streetcar named desire, I’m in second, running hot/Climb on board, babe, I don’t tire/’Cause I’m built to take quite a lot!”  And “Streetcar” truly sets the tone for the album as it establishes Cherry’s take-no-prisoners persona as strikingly depicted on the cover photograph.  Though the album downplays pure R&B, the style is inherent in Cherry’s strong voice, one which she deployed to memorable effect (along with Luther Vandross and Robin Clark) as a central component of David Bowie’s “plastic soul” album Young Americans.

“Streetcar” segues into the urgent “Fast Lover” (with music by Parnell and keyboardist Dave Kaffinetti) with its alluring but aggressive vocal, though Cherry’s sexual fearlessness finds its fullest expression on the frenetic “Love to Be Touched.”  Its fierce, punk-infused and primal lead compares favorably with the tough-girl sound of Pat Benatar or Blondie’s Debbie Harry as the singer confesses via her own lyrics, “You really take care of my body for me/’Cause you know every inch from A to Z/I’m taking all the love you’re giving to me/You never fail to make my spirits free…”   The keyboard part lends “Love to Be Touched,” composed by Lunn and Delph, a futuristic air circa 1982.

This Side One mini-suite comes to a conclusion with the Goodsall/Esty/Cherry team’s “Protection,” on which Cherry again plays the predator, offering up spoken interludes over funky guitar licks: “There’s no protection for me/You can’t run from my love/There’s no protection from me/You’re the world I’m dreamin’ of…”  But the track takes on an unexpected new dimension when Mark Isham enters with a smoky, late-night flugelhorn solo.  Isham’s horn is the only aspect of the track that’s restrained, however.  Cherry means business, instructing her intended to bring the cat-o’-nine-tails (“You know I like a little spanking now and then…”) before the risqué song is out.

The second side of the original LP gained a boost from the prominent background vocals of Arnold McCuller, Charlo Crossley (one of Bette Midler’s former Harlettes) and Leslie Smith on tracks like the sassy “Awkward Situation,” written by McCuller and Jan Michael Alejandro with additional contributions from Cherry.  Despite the song’s title, there’s very little about Cherry that could be remotely described as awkward!  Here, the singer’s saucy sense of humor comes to the fore (“What an awkward situation to be in/Miss Cherry’s falling once again!” – and again, and again, per the song…) and by the end of the track, she’s seduced the band, too!  On the other end of the spectrum is Parnell and Kaffinetti’s “Street Victim.”  A slick arrangement belies its edgy content described in the liner notes by producer Esty as “very illustrative of a streetwalker, a victim of the times.”

Indeed, Streetcar revels in its eclectic nature.  It’s hard to imagine a less likely candidate for inclusion on an electro-funk-dance platter circa 1982 than a cover of Deep Purple’s “This Time Around.”  But Cherry took command of Glenn Hughes and Jon Lord’s understated ballad in an evocative rendition embellished by Isham’s dark Harmon mute trumpet.  It’s the most conventionally melodic track on the album, and a dramatic and daring reinvention with some tweaked lyrics (“The world around us hangs in doubt/We face a crime that we’ll hear about/To pay the cost would never be the same/Eternal lover, you’re not to blame…”).

“Techno Love,” with a melody and synthesizer arrangement by its multi-instrumentalist composer Isham, could well have provided the title of the LP.  McCuller and Esty provided the lyrics which were certainly not as chilly as the title might indicate.  Cherry seductively intones its double entendres, but also cuts to the chase.  When she declares, “I need a man to raise my voltage higher,” it’s evident that many gentlemen would be lining up for the opportunity, their temperatures rising.

On the original LP release, “Street Victim” was followed by “Techno Love.”  But Gold Legion’s reissue restores one previously unreleased track.  “I Guess It’s Love” makes its first appearance here, restored to its intended position between “Victim” and “Techno.”  A bouncy, contemporary spin on a girl-group yarn of young romance, it’s less provocative than many of the surrounding tracks.  Perhaps that quality may have accounted for its excision from the original line-up.  Cherry acts coy: “He looks so sexy and shy, and when he passes me by/Oh, what he’s doing to me!”  Two more bonus tracks have also been appended to Streetcar: Rusty Garner’s 12-inch remixes of the title track and “Awkward Situation.”  The latter is particularly strong, emphasizing all of the right elements of the original track in a fresh way.  Kevin Gray has remastered the entire album, bringing its vivid stereo spread to life on compact disc.

Christian John Wikane supplies a lengthy, comprehensive and truly illuminating essay touching on virtually every aspect of the album’s creation.  New quotes are provided by Cherry, Esty, Isham, Crossley, McCuller and the surviving members of Zoo Drive as well as Bobby Colomby, the Blood, Sweat and Tears co-founder who championed Cherry at Capitol.  Wikane has drawn out refreshingly honest tidbits from his interviewees.  Cherry recounts the initial confusion and sonic stereotyping: “We sent ‘Love to Be Touched’ to radio stations and they didn’t see a picture of me.  They thought I was white!  They started to play it on pop radio but then somebody sent them a picture of me and they found out that I was a black artist.  They took it off the air.”  The candor of all of the participants, as well as their affection for this all-too-unheralded album, comes through in this stellar account.  You might just need a magnifying glass to read the small print – but the effort is certainly more than worthwhile.  The 16-page booklet is generously illustrated, too, though it unfortunately lacks discographical information as to the original release; “I Guess It’s Love” isn’t even indicated as previously unreleased other than in Wikane’s essay.

For an uncompromising statement by a one-of-a-kind artist, look no further than Gold Legion’s fine reissue of Ava Cherry’s Streetcar Named Desire.  It’s a ride you won’t regret taking.

Ava Cherry, Streetcar Named Desire (Capitol LP ST-12175, 1982 – reissued Gold Legion 670945 67094 562372, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Having Been Near
  2. Streetcar Named Desire
  3. Fast Lover
  4. Love to Be Touched
  5. Protection
  6. Awkward Situation
  7. This Time Around
  8. Street Victim
  9. I Guess It’s Love (previously unreleased)
  10. Techno Love
  11. Having Been Far
  12. Streetcar Named Desire (12” Remix) (Capitol 12” single 8533-A, 1982)
  13. Awkward Situation (12” Remix) (Capitol 12” single 8533-B, 1982)

Written by Joe Marchese

September 16, 2013 at 16:13

Posted in Ava Cherry, News, Reissues, Reviews

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