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Big Break Big Round-Up, Divas Edition: Label Reissues Carolyn Franklin, Gloria Gaynor, Patti LaBelle

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Carolyn Franklin - If You Want MeAs the youngest daughter of The Reverend C.L. Franklin, Carolyn Franklin was destined to live in the shadow her older sister Aretha. But like eldest sister Erma, Carolyn carved out an impressive career of her own. During her too-short life, sadly curbed by cancer at age 43 in 1988, Carolyn recorded for both the independent Double L label and the major RCA Victor. In addition to serving as a background singer on such classics as “Respect” and contributing to its now-famous arrangement, she wrote or co-wrote a number of memorable songs for Aretha including “Ain’t No Way,” “Ain’t Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)” and “Angel.” Now, Big Break has brought her fourth solo album, 1976’s If You Want Me, to CD.

Recorded in 1973 but shelved for three years, If You Want Me arrived in record stores at the wrong time. Disco and funkier R&B had supplanted the lush, sweet soul style employed by Carolyn and a team of producer-arrangers on the album including Jimmy Radcliffe, Wade Marcus, Sonny Saunders, and Pearl “Spear” Jones. Radcliffe was an ace soul singer himself, with the original recording of “This Diamond Ring” under his belt as well as songs like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s dramatic “(There Goes) The Forgotten Man.” Marcus was equally conversant in jazz (Donald Byrd, Grant Green) and soul (Marlena Shaw, The Dramatics), and Saunders had worked with Walter Jackson and Tyrone Davis. “Spear” had backed Aretha with The Sweethearts of Soul.

These varied producers were able to create a unified sound for Carolyn’s record, generally soft but with a few choice gritty cuts. Though her voice wasn’t as powerful as that of Aretha or Erma, it still was a strong and expressive instrument. It’s not hard to hear a touch of Aretha’s sound and style on tracks like the title track “If You Want Me” when Carolyn employs her gospel-trained belt over Radcliffe’s light reggae arrangement.   (Carolyn co-wrote the song with Radcliffe, too.) There’s a breezy groove to Spear and Saunders’ “Sunshine Holiday,” given a spirited arrangement by Saunders.

Other tracks touched on funk (“Dead Man” and “Song Man,” both co-written by Wade Marcus, and the sassy “Deal with It” from the pen of Franklin and Jones) and smoldering soul (the sensual “I Can’t Help My Feeling So Blue,” which became the album’s lone single). Marcus wrote a comparatively spare, earthy arrangement for Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s Stylistics hit “You Are Everything,” and Carolyn imbued it with a sultry, simmering passion. Franklin and Saunders’ “Not Enough Love to Hold” is the album’s most upbeat moment, with vocals and horns both appropriately brassy.

After the jump: more on Carolyn, plus the scoop on Gloria Gaynor and Patti LaBelle on BBR!

Big Break’s reissue has been remastered by Nick Robbins and includes both a detailed new essay by Stephen “SPAZ” Schnee and one bonus track, the single version of “I Can’t Help My Feeling So Blue.” If Carolyn Franklin wasn’t able to carve out as distinctive or earth-shattering a sound as Aretha – and let’s face it, very few could – If You Want Me proves that she was a solid soul A-lister.

Gloria Gaynor - Gloria GaynorThough Gloria Gaynor resisted the notion to title her 1975 debut album after her own name, she took the plunge with 1982’s Gloria Gaynor long after her star was already well-established. Usually such a move signals an artistic rebirth, and indeed, the eponymous LP found Gaynor at Atlantic Records for the first and only time following nine LPs released between 1975 and 1981 at the Polydor label. It’s just received an expanded reissue from Big Break, the label’s fifth album from Gaynor.

In 1982, even the Queen of the Discos had to admit that the disco style had fallen in popular favor, even if many elements of the style continued to inform modern R&B. Her final three albums for Polydor didn’t reach the heights set by Never Can Say Goodbye or Love Tracks (which featured the all-time anthem “I Will Survive”). So with producers Ollie E. Brown, Rick Stevens, Yves Dessca and Kool and the Gang’s Amir Bayyan, Gaynor embraced a post-disco, electronic R&B style for her Atlantic debut.

Kool and the Gang backed Gaynor on an update of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Supremes classic “Stop in the Name of Love” produced and arranged by bassist/keyboardist Bayyan. Though it took some liberties with the original melody and replaced the storming Motown groove with something altogether slicker, the party vibe of “Stop” heralded a fresh and vibrant sound for Gaynor.

Session veteran Ollie E. Brown (The Temptations, The Rolling Stones) produced four tracks including the funky “Mack-Side” co-written by David Bowie collaborator Carlos Alomar. With its loping groove, insinuating bassline and prominent saxophone, it was squarely contemporary for 1982. It backed the album’s first single, the upbeat, synth-laden “Tease Me” which ups the pop quotient and boasts a fun, flirty vocal from Gaynor. The ubiquitous Jerry Hey provided the horns for the un-ironic ode to “America” (“I’m more than proud to say/That I’m happy just to stay in America…”) which begins with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” with a beat and goes off in its own patriotic direction celebrating the “land of love and liberty.” The patriotic anthem might have been too cloying, especially by the time the children’s chorus enters, but if it ultimately didn’t catch on, it’s a boisterous cut with a melody tailor-made for the dancefloor.

The quietest moments on Gloria Gaynor come from two mid-tempo ballads produced by Stevens and Dessca. Featuring jazz greats Joe Beck and David Sanborn on guitars and saxophone, respectively, “For You My Love” has a retro, quasi-Philly soul flavor enhanced by strings. Tom Snow and Kerry Chater’s “Even a Fool Would Let Go” was introduced by Smith singer Gayle McCormick and later picked up by Charlie Rich, B.J. Thomas, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Dionne Warwick, among others. In 1982, the same year Gaynor recorded it, Levon Helm even took a stab! Gaynor’s dramatic recording, with Beck and Sanborn on an arrangement by Paul Williams’ collaborator Kenny Ascher, is the album’s best showcase for the purity and expressiveness of Gaynor’s vocals.

Gloria Gaynor features a lengthy six pages of entertaining and illuminating liner notes by Steven E. Flemming Jr. drawing on a new interview with the artist. Four bonus tracks are included: the 45 versions of all three A-sides, “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Tease Me” and “America,” and the extended Disco Version of “Stop.” Nick Robbins has remastered this edition which is housed in a Super Jewel Box. Gloria Gaynor didn’t chart any hits, and the album couldn’t get any higher than No. 210 on the Billboard survey, but it’s an overlooked chapter in her career that’s worth exploring. Gaynor would return with another showstopper on her very next album – Jerry Herman’s La Cage Aux Folles anthem “I Am What I Am” – but that’s a story for another day!

Patti LaBelle - TastyPatti LaBelle, currently bringing down the house eight times a week in Broadway’s After Midnight, returns to the BBR label with an expanded edition of her second Epic Records solo album, 1978’s Tasty. This completes BBR’s reissue program for her four Epic albums originally released between 1977 and 1980.

Like its predecessor, Patti’s self-titled Epic debut, Tasty was produced by David Rubinson and featured a considerable array of talents including Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, James Gadson on drums, The Waters (Julia, Maxine, Luther and Oren) on background vocals and Patti’s musical director Budd Ellison on keyboards. Percussionists Willie Colon and Sheila E (Escovedo), drummer Ollie E. Brown, guitarist Wah Wah Watson and steel drummer Andy Narell all joined the line-up.

Rubinson and LaBelle selected an eclectic array of material for Tasty such as its opening track, a reinvention of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s Brill Building staple “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Pomus’ bittersweet lyrics were inspired by the polio-stricken songwriter’s inability to dance with his wife at their wedding; Shuman set his words to a yearning yet undeniably catchy melody and Latin baion rhythm. LaBelle’s vivid uptempo dance rendition upped the beat with drums, steel drums and congas for a tropical vibe. An even more pronounced Latin vibe came from “Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)” which embraced a salsa sound and featured Willie Colon on congas, Sheila E on timbales, Richard Kermode on montuno-style piano, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler on drums and Colon and Carlos D. Aleman on background vocals. The brash, festive track was not an update of the Gene DePaul/Sammy Cahn standard but rather an original penned by LaBelle, Rubinson, Budd Ellison and Armstead Edwards. LaBelle, Ellison and Edwards also collaborated on the soulful gospel of “Quiet Time” on which The Johnny Land Singers supported LaBelle’s lead.

Other tracks were purloined from the songbooks of Michael Franks (the dryly witty, double entendre-filled “Monkey-See Monkey-Do”), Boz Scaggs (the bright “You Make It So Hard (To Say No)”) and the “Shake Rattle and Roll” tunesmith Jesse Stone (“Don’t Let Go,” a hit first for Roy Hamilton and later for Isaac Hayes). LaBelle’s patronage of Allee Willis led to the future Grammy winner getting two songs on Tasty: the intimate “Little Girls” and rousing, heartfelt “I See Home.” LaBelle and The Waters took no prisoners with their sassy and spirited call-and-response vocals on Pete Wingfield’s frenetic album closer, “Eyes in the Back of My Head.”

Tasty didn’t climb the charts any higher than No. 39 R&B/No. 129 Pop, but it showed off the power, fire and versatility of LaBelle’s vocal range in a variety of musical settings. Christian John Wikane’s seven pages of affectionate and intelligent discourse on the LP, bolstered by the participation of Rubinson, Ray Parker Jr. and The Waters, make an essential complement to the album as do the four bonus tracks: single edits of “Little Girls” and “Teach Me Tonight” and extended Disco Versions of “Eyes in the Back of My Head” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Nick Robbins has handled the remastering.

All titles are available now and can be ordered at the links below!

Carolyn Franklin, If You Want Me (RCA LP ALP1-0420 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0272, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. From the Bottom of My Heart
  2. If You Want Me
  3. I Can’t Help My Feeling So Blue
  4. Too Many Roads
  5. Sunshine Holiday
  6. Dead Man
  7. You Are Everything
  8. You Can Have My Soul
  9. Song Man
  10. Not Enough Love to Hold
  11. Deal with It
  12. I Can’t Help My Feeling So Blue (Single Version) (RCA single PB-10688, 1976)

Gloria Gaynor, Gloria Gaynor (Atlantic LP 80033-1, 1982 – reissued Big Break CDBBRX 0197, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Stop in the Name of Love
  2. Runaround Love
  3. Mack-Side
  4. Tease Me
  5. America
  6. For You, My Love
  7. Love Me Real
  8. Even a Fool Would Let Go
  9. Stop in the Name of Love (Single Version) (Atlantic single 7-89887, 1983)
  10. Tease Me (Atlantic single 7-89947, 1982)
  11. America (Atlantic single 7-89824, 1983)
  12. Stop in the Name of Love (12-Inch Disco Version) (Atlantic DMD 600, 1982)

Patti LaBelle, Tasty (Epic LP JE-35335, 1978 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0271, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Save the Last Dance for Me
  2. Monkey-See, Monkey-Do
  3. Little Girls
  4. You Make It So Hard (To Say No)
  5. Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)
  6. Quiet Time
  7. Don’t Let Go
  8. I See Home
  9. Eyes in the Back of My Head
  10. Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile) (Single Version) (Epic single 8-50550, 1978)
  11. Little Girls (Single Version) (Epic single 8-50583, 1978)
  12. Eyes in the Back of My Head (12-Inch Disco Version) (Epic 12-inch single 28-50573, 1978)
  13. Save the Last Dance for Me (12-Inch Disco Version) (Epic 12-inch single 28-50573, 1978)

Written by Joe Marchese

June 24, 2014 at 10:27

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