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You Gotta Have Faith (Hope, and Charity): Real Gone Reissues Lost R&B Gems

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Faith Hope and CharityReal Gone Music is moving to the sound of a disco beat! In conjunction with SoulMusic Records, Real Gone has tapped the vaults of RCA Records to present two world-premiere CD reissues, both with rare bonus tracks.

Perhaps no other genre has inspired as many songs imploring listeners to suppress their inhibitions and put their dancing shoes on as disco has. “Let’s Go to the Disco/’Cause I feel like dancing tonight/Let’s go to the disco/Where the music is outta sight!” The call to arms “Let’s Go to the Disco” opened the self-titled 1975 RCA album by Faith, Hope and Charity, which was produced, arranged, conducted and largely written by Van McCoy. Brenda Hilliard (“Faith”), Albert Bailey (“Hope”) and Zulema Cusseaux (“Charity”) first teamed as The Crystals (not those Crystals) and then as The Lovelles before canny producer Bob Crewe (The Four Seasons, “Lady Marmalade”) rechristened them Faith, Hope and Charity. They first worked with McCoy – in his days as a top purveyor of sophisticated, sultry soul, pre-“The Hustle” – in 1970, and their hit “So Much Love” gained them entrée to the Top 20 of the U.S. R&B chart and the Top 100 Pop. McCoy took the trio from Maxwell Records to Sussex Records, and although Zulema split from the group in 1971 after a couple of albums, the remaining two members stayed in contact with the producer. (Bailey and Hilliard had even sung on McCoy’s Disco Baby LP, from which “The Hustle” was drawn!) With the addition of new member Diane Destry filling the role of Charity, Hilliard and Bailey reteamed with McCoy and snagged a deal at RCA just as disco was continuing its ascent in the mainstream.

The gleaming, upbeat Faith, Hope and Charity followed the lush, string-laden orchestral disco approach that developed out of the Philadelphia soul sound emanating from that city’s Sigma Sound Studios. McCoy wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s nine tracks, with the remaining two slots going to cover versions. Each cut found the arranger-orchestrator at the top of the disco game, surrounded by top NY session pros including Steve Gadd on drums, Eric Gale and David Spinozza on guitars, and Leon Pendarvis and Richard Tee on electric piano and clavinet. George Devens filled the Vince Montana role on the vibes.

Like “Let’s Go to the Disco,” “Disco Dan” reveled in the very sound of the new dance music, unabashedly celebrating it: “Disco Dan/He’s the latest, he’s the greatest…Makes you wanna move your feet and clap your hands…The man is really something!” Faith, Hope and Charity also found room to revive classic songs in disco versions. “Disco-fying” songs, from standards to recent hits, was par for the course; in 1975, Gloria Gaynor famously took The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” to the Top 10. For FH&C, McCoy remade two vintage R&B hits. Both “Rescue Me,” Fontella Bass’ 1965 hit, and “Just One Look,” Doris Troy’s 1963 classic, featured lead vocals from Brenda Hilliard and respectably updated the beloved songs. Hilliard also lent her urgent vocals to the uptempo “Find a Way” from McCoy and his songwriting partner Charles Kipps, Jr.

After the jump: more on Faith, Hope and Charity, plus The New York Community Choir!

The brassy “Don’t Go Looking for Love,” an R&B Top 40 hit, and the infectious “To Each His Own (That’s My Philosophy),” an R&B chart-topper, most closely resembled Philadelphia soul with tight group harmony vocals, slinky bass, sweeping strings, chiming percussion and the sound of muted trumpets. Philly’s Brenda and the Tabulations had previously recorded McCoy’s pulsating “Little Bit of Love” with its composer; here, Destry’s slightly edgier voice carried the day. The lightly funky “Mellow Me” – not a ballad as the title might suggest – had its greatest success on the Disco chart, where it reached the Top 10. Truth to tell, mellow moments were far and few between on this uptempo, crowd-pleasing platter.

Three bonus tracks round out the set, the shorter single versions of “To Each His Own,” “Find a Way” and “Don’t Go Looking for Love.” Mark Wilder at Sony’s own Battery Studios has splendidly remastered, while SoulMusic’s David Nathan has provided the terrific liner notes.

NYCC - Make Every Day CountBy 1978, it wasn’t uncommon for gospel artists to “cross over” onto the pop charts. The Edwin Hawkins Singers, The Staple Singers and The Mighty Clouds of Joy were a few of the acts who had already done so; pop artists like B.J. Thomas were also returning the favor by charting gospel hits. The New York Community Choir, with its roots in gospel’s The Douglas Singers, had been recording since 1970, earning great acclaim in 1971 for the Top 15 R&B album The Truth is on Its Way with poet Nikki Giovanni. (One splinter group of the Choir, Revelation Movement, had concentrated on secular music, earning a contract with RSO Records and even touring with RSO’s star attraction, the Bee Gees.) RCA’s Warren Schatz was a fan of the NYCC’s 1973 song “Let’s Go Higher,” an R&B and Gospel hit, and approached the group to sign with the label in 1978 to create secular music with a spiritual bent. Schatz was firming up RCA’s R&B/disco roster with artists like Vicki Sue Robinson (whose “Turn the Beat Around” employed NYCC members as background vocalists) and Evelyn “Champagne” King at the height of the disco era. Many of the same ace players as on Faith, Hope and Charity – including Richard Tee, Leon Pendarvis, Steve Gadd and George Devens – entered RCA’s studios with producer Schatz and future CBS Orchestra leader Paul Shaffer on piano and Will Lee on bass – to record the NYCC’s Make Every Day Count. Real Gone has also brought this album to CD for the first time.

The catchy and uplifting title track, which opened the album, combined disco rhythms with a 10-strong gospel choir, and set its message to a big, danceable groove: “Don’t wait ‘til tomorrow/Tomorrow may bring sorrow/Make every day count!” The song, penned by members Arthur Freeman and Benny Diggs with Joseph Joubert (today a theatrical orchestrator), set the tone for the rest of the unusual yet striking eight-song album. Each track bore a positive message but emphasized spirituality over explicit religious references. Lee’s funky, slithering bass anchors Freeman’s “The World is Waiting for a Change,” another club-ready cut complete with a long bass-and-percussion break, as well as the joyous disco-gospel fusion “Rejoice, Rejoice.”

Though remembered for its disco-flavored material, Make Every Day Count also slowed down for ballads such as the Deniece Williams-esque ballad “A Song Can Reach Your Heart” and the piano-driven “Who Do You Say I Am,” one of the LP’s closest concessions to a “traditional” church sound. Freeman’s “This Old Man” is another breather, a touching and clearly heartfelt tribute to African-American fatherhood.

Perhaps the most famous song on the album is “I’ll Keep My Light in My Window,” which was introduced by its co-writer Leonard Caston on the underrated Motown album by Caston and Majors from 1974. This boisterous plea to “make a world of love for me and you” was also recorded by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (in duet form), Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye at Motown, and by Maria Muldaur and Ben Vereen outside of the Gordy empire. Naturally, the big sound of the NYCC was perfect for Caston and Theresa McFaddin’s anthemic composition. Another rousing roof-raiser, Diggs and Joubert’s “We Can Make It,” closes out the LP on a high note.

Real Gone’s reissue, again produced and annotated by David Nathan, adds the 12-inch mixes of “I’ll Keep My Light in My Window” and “Make Every Day Count.” No remastering credit is present, but sound quality is superb. The booklet also reprints the original album artwork, with lyrics printed on the tray card. (Alas, replica RCA labels aren’t utilized on either disc.) Some might have balked at NYCC’s RCA debut, asking “Why disco?” But the question should be “Why NOT disco?” Disco provided the Top 40 with some of its most joyous grooves; swapping out carnality for spirituality, NYCC proved that disco-gospel wasn’t such a far-fetched notion, after all.

Both Faith, Hope and Charity and Make Every Day Count are available now from Real Gone Music and SoulMusic Records!

Faith Hope & Charity, Faith Hope & Charity (Expanded Edition) : Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The New York Community Choir, Make Every Day Count (Expanded Edition) : Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

 

Written by Joe Marchese

August 22, 2014 at 10:18

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