Everyone uses Spotify these days. However, I have realized that tons of albums I was researching don’t exist there for whatever reasons. Which always makes me go back to my vinyl collection and spin some of those good old gems. This is going to be a loosely published review section of albums you won’t find on that streaming outlet.
The Harlettes is a trio of back-up singers who supported Bette Midler during her live performances since the early seventies. The line-up of the group has changed many many times and three of the girls, Sharon Redd, Ula Hedwig, and Charlotte Crossley, released an album back in 1978 on Columbia Records called “Sharon Redd, Ula Hedwig, Charlotte Crossley – Formerly of the Harlettes”. They released only one album. Sharon was part of the group from 1972 to 1978 before she started her successful solo career, releasing the unforgettable disco classic “Can You Handle It” in 1980. Ula was part of the group from 1975 to 1978 and then again in 1980 and 1982/83. And Charlotte was also staying in the group from 1972 to 1978. Other members over the years included Jocelyn Brown, Paulette McWilliams, and Diva Gray.
The album was produced by David Rubinson, engineer and producer who has worked a lot with Herbie Hancock and The Pointer Sisters, among many others. It features some of the best studio musicians at the time, or any time, with John Barnes on keys, Wah Wah Watson on guitar, Byron Miller on bass, and James Gadson on drums. Additional musicians are Ray Parker, Jr., Leon Ndugu Chancler, Freddie Washington, and Herbie Hancock. The vocals, you guessed it, are simply striking throughout, whether as harmony vocals on the beautiful slow jam “Does Your Mama Know About Me” or during the solo spots. Sharon I think is the easiest to recognize with her full, thick, and powerful instrument.
There is a lot of variety here. The Latin-tinged “Now (Sweet Lover Man)” with great percussion work and a long Salsa solo is hard to resist, as is the Charleston-esque “Can’t Dance (Dance, Dance, Dance)”, a nod to the Pointer Sisters, which opens the album in a jazzy and lively way. The combination of soul and jazz those days was much smoother and seemed to be more natural than after the 80s were over and that’s one of the reasons why I always go back to albums like these. “Roll Me Through The Rushes”, written by Lana Marrano and also recorded by Chaka Khan for her first solo album in 1978, is simply awe-inspiring with its intense and powerful soulfulness. The girls get really funky on the Average White Band classic “Put It Where You Want It”, co-written by Joe Sample.
The group reminds me of some of the best LaBelle recordings of the period on the ballad “Ain’t No Man Worth It”, a blues/folk/gospel/soul wonder echoing yet another female vocal group of the seventies, The Emotions. The vocals here are just stunning. The funky bass entry on “Cash In”, a formidably sexy slow funk workout, is priceless. But for me the highlight is an amazing interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”. Clocking at almost ten minutes, this vocal version (with lyrics by Jean Hancock), with a prolonged Rhodes solo by Herbie himself with the three divas accompanying with some wordless vocalizing, is the epitome of late 70s soul/jazz perfection. And the cover art is brilliant too.