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Archive for the ‘Lenny Williams’ Category

The Sound of Young America, Seventies-Style: Big Break Goes Motown

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Lenny Williams - RiseBig Break Records has long kept each month packed with the most soulful records of all time, but the label has recently done something a little extra special – an entire group of six releases drawn exclusively from the vaults of Motown Records!  (And there’s more on the way!)

Atop this mighty list is a long-awaited remaster of Stephanie Mills’ Motown debut, For the First Time.  Released in 1975 – the same year Mills took Broadway by storm in The Wiz – the LP was the “first time” she recorded for Motown, and the last time that Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote and produced an album together.  We’ll be covering that title soon in a special review!

Lenny Williams, former lead singer for Tower of Power, didn’t break through as a solo artist until he signed with ABC Records in 1977.  But prior to that, Williams released two LPs: one for Warner Bros. while he was still with Tower of Power, and one with Motown: Rise Sleeping Beauty.  Seeking not to veer too far away from the ToP sound, he teamed as co-producer with the band’s Chester Thompson.  Six of the ten tracks on Sleeping Beauty were co-written by Williams and David Stallings; among the album’s musicians were ToP alumni Steve Kupka and Mic Gillette.  Despite some controversy over the cover – a fairy-tale image which seems rather tame today – the album, recorded in San Francisco, scored one minor hit with the Sly and the Family Stone-influenced “Since I Met You.”  In addition to the album version, the track is included in its promotional single version on Big Break’s new reissue as a bonus cut. Alternating between lushly romantic songs and funky grooves, Rise Sleeping Beauty is both a missing link in the Williams story and a lost R&B gem.  Andy Kellman provides the new, comprehensive liner notes, and Kevin Reeves has remastered. Rise Sleeping Beauty is handsomely presented in a Super Jewel Box, as are all of these Motown releases.

Originals - Down to Love TownBig Break returns to the catalogue of The Originals with 1977’s Down to Love Town, following the label’s 2011 reissue of the group’s 1975 California Sunset.  The Originals, formed in 1966 but with roots tracing back to the 1950s’ Voice Masters group, worked their way up the Motown ranks as background singers for Stevie Wonder, Edwin Starr and Jimmy Ruffin.  With Marvin Gaye championing them, The Originals scored their most memorable hits with “Baby, I’m for Real” (1969) and “The Bells” (1970), both co-written and produced by the Motown legend. Down to Love Town, on the Soul imprint, followed 1976’s Communiqué, and had its roots in that LP.  The title track, “Down to Love Town,” was featured on Communiqué, and its 12-inch remix took The Originals all the way to No. 1 on the U.S. Disco chart, their best chart showing since “The Bells.” This extended version, which cut many of the lyrics and emphasized the groove, appeared on the new LP.  “(Call on Your) Six Million Dollar Man” from “Love Town” co-writers Michael B. Sutton and Brenda Sutton also notched a No. 6 Disco hit for the vocal quartet.  Michael Sutton produced three of the album’s seven tracks, with two more produced by the group itself (led by founding member Freddie Gorman) and one by Sutton and Motown stalwart Frank Wilson (who would join Lenny Williams at ABC). Down to Love Town proved to be The Originals’ Motown swansong; their next album appeared on the Fantasy label.  Big Break’s new reissue of this lost disco-soul platter, remastered by Reeves, features copious notes from Justin Cober-Lake.  One bonus track, an alternate version of the title track, is also included to round out the package.

High InergyA few months later in 1977, Motown’s Gordy imprint released the debut of High Inergy. Turnin’ On introduced the four-person girl group that Berry Gordy hoped would follow in the footsteps of The Supremes.  Gordy’s older sister, Gwen Gordy-Fuqua, guided Vernessa and Barbara Mitchell, Linda Howard and Michelle Martin to Motown and assigned a number of producers to the album: Kent Washburn, Jimmy Holiday, Al Willis and Dee Ervin.  They, in turn, drew on Motown’s Jobete publishing arm to supply High Inergy with fresh material.  Two songs had origins in material Washburn had recorded in demo form for Diana Ross herself: “Let Me Get Close to You” and “Searchin’ (I’ve Got to Find My Love).”    Another track, “Love is All You Need,” was previously recorded by Tata Vega but given a smoking new interpretation by High Inergy.  One song came from the tried-and-true team of Marilyn McLeod and Pam Sawyer (“You Can’t Turn Me Off (In the Middle of Turning Me On),” introduced by Millie Jackson) and two more from future soul superstar James Ingram (“Could This Be Love,” “Save It for a Rainy Day”).  All of this assembled talent – including musicians Ray Parker, Jr. and Ollie Brown – augured for success, and Turnin’ On achieved it.  With its contemporary blend of R&B styles – from classic-styled romantic balladry to light disco and funk – the album reached a No. 6 R&B peak and also went Top 30 Pop, while “You Can’t Turn Me On” hit No. 2 R&B and a still-impressive No. 12 Pop position.  Second single “Love is All You Need” also went Top 20 R&B, and cracked the top 100 on the Pop side.  BBR’s Kevin Reeves-remastered reissue chronicles the group’s history in a fine new essay from Rico “Superbizzee” Washington and adds both of those single versions.

After the jump: the scoop on Platinum Hook and Switch, plus full track listings and order links for all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 19, 2014 at 10:32

SoulMusic Round-Up: Label Expands, Reissues Esther Phillips, The Tymes, Lenny Williams and Benét

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Esther Phillips - From a Whisper ExpandedSoulMusic Records has kept a busy profile in recent months on both sides of the Atlantic. A quartet of the label’s recent U.K. releases spotlight memorable voices from across the R&B spectrum.

The one-time “Little Esther,” a.k.a. Esther Mae Jones, a.k.a. Esther Phillips, came to CTI Records’ Kudu imprint in 1971 as a veteran artist. Though she was just shy of 36 years old, she already had 22 years of her career behind her. If Atlantic Records was unsure of the best setting in which to place Phillips’ distinctive voice, Kudu’s Creed Taylor had the formula from Day One. Taylor surrounded the vocalist with the best of his crossover-jazz roster on fresh, funky and contemporary songs, embracing soul, jazz, pop, and later, disco. The result was From a Whisper to a Scream, the subject of a new, expanded SoulMusic reissue.

From a Whisper to a Scream was named after the Allen Toussaint composition. Esther’s future musical director Pee Wee Ellis and Jack Wilson traded off arrangement duties on the album’s songs, with CTI “house arranger” Don Sebesky sweetening some tracks with his trademark strings. Richard Tee, Bernard Purdie, Eric Gale, Hank Crawford and Airto Moreira all added their instrumental prowess. The album’s nine tracks included another cut from the New Orleans piano man, “Sweet Touch of Love,” as well as songs from Eddie Floyd (“That’s All Right with Me,” “’Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone”), Marvin Gaye (“Baby I’m for Real”), Big Dee Irwin (“Your Love is So Doggone Good”) and Gil Scott-Heron (the wrenching “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” on which Esther laid her soul and her own personal demons bare). Whisper garnered a great deal of attention when Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for her Young, Gifted and Black LP and turned it over to fellow nominee Phillips: “I liked Esther’s record…I felt she could use encouragement,” the generous Queen commented.

From a Whisper was reissued earlier this year as part of the Australian Raven label’s package of Phillips’ first four Kudu LPs. SoulMusic’s new edition, however, adds four bonus tracks (one of which also appeared on the Raven set) from the same December 1971 sessions which yielded the album. These tracks – Carole King’s “Brother, Brother,” Leonard and Jane Feather’s “How Blue Can You Get,” Craig Lockhart’s “Don’t Run to Him” and Stanley Styne and Donald Kahn’s “A Beautiful Friendship” – were all previously issued on CD by Sony. SoulMusic’s David Nathan adds new liner notes with a personal touch, and Alan Wilson has remastered.

Tymes - Tymes UpPhiladelphia vocal group The Tymes, best-known for their 1963 chart-topper “So Much in Love,” found themselves experiencing a happy career renaissance with their RCA 1974 single “You Little Trustmaker.” Both the 45 and the album from which it was derived, Trustmaker, announced that it was once again time for The Tymes. Weathering the departure of George Hilliard (who was replaced first by Charles Nixon and then by Jerry Ferguson), the group pressed on for a second RCA long-player which is receiving its CD debut from SoulMusic Records. Tymes Up was a New York/Philadelphia crosstown affair, reuniting The Tymes with Trustmaker arranger/conductor and Philly soul veteran Richie Rome. Tymes Up brought the sextet’s vocal sound into a disco context, with disco pioneer Tom Moulton handling the final mix on the LP produced by Billy Jackson. Rhythm tracks were laid down by Jackson and Rome in New York, with strings, horns and additional voices added at the epicenter of Philly soul, Sigma Sound, by Don Renaldo’s Horns and Strings and The Sweethearts of Sigma.

A “who’s who” of soul, R&B and disco provided songs for the album, including Fonzi Thornton (“If I Can’t Make You Smile,” “God’s Gonna Punish You” and “To the Max(imum),” Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy (“It’s Cool”) and the unusual team of Four Seasons songwriter Sandy Linzer and Russian producer Boris Midney (“Hypnotized”). The sleek style of Tymes Up owed not just to the dancefloor but to the sophisticated soul stylings of Thom Bell and Gamble and Huff; the latter production duo had, ironically, declined a place on the Philadelphia International roster to The Tymes when the hometown group submitted for a place on the label.  Tymes Up performed respectably, reaching No. 40 R&B/No. 202 Pop. Its singles fared even better, with “It’s Cool” reaching No. 3 R&B/No. 68 Pop, and both “Only Your Love” and “To the Max(imum)” hitting No. 3 on the disco survey. Two more RCA albums followed. SoulMusic’s CD issue of Tymes Up includes comprehensive new liner notes from Charles Waring, new remastering from Alan Wilson, and two bonus tracks – the single edits of “God’s Gonna Punish You” and “Only Your Love.”

After the jump, we have a look at recent reissues from Lenny Williams and Benét, plus track listings and pre-order links for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 23, 2014 at 10:00