The years from 1979 to 1983 are the most important years in our vita – most of the LPs which I bought during those years are still vital, crucial, elemental, and timeless. Just three examples: the Quincy Jones-produced album “Give Me The Night” by George Benson, featuring, among many others, the monumental, lavishly arranged and executed “Love x Love” (1980). Howard Johnson released his debut album in 1982 and it features the still irresistible “So Fine”. The album was produced by Kashif, Paul Laurence and Morrie Brown and in terms of craftsmanship, it still ranks among the top. There are more gems on the album of course, like the Kashif-penned title track “Keepin’ Love New”. I bought the album on my 16th birthday. Third example: the group Mtume, led by producer extraordinaire James Mtume, had this amazing lead vocalist called Tawatha Agee who appeared on a lot of albums during this period as background vocalist as well. “Juicy Fruit” still sends chills. She recorded a solo album in 1987, produced by James Mtume, but the late 80s sound with too much synth programming and drum computers were taking its toll. Still, tracks like “Thigh Ride” always resonate.
Those three examples find their way back onto the annual “Soul Togetherness” compilation which I can’t praise enough for its selection which was made again by Richard Searling and Ralph Tee. “Love x Love” gets the Bluey (Incognito) stamp production-wise and features the classy Kenny Thomas on vocals. Bluey’s output is called Thames River Soul and the initial album also features singers Imaani, Vanessa Haynes, and Omar. This version here has all the lush and luxurious Bluey trademarks. Kashif & Howard Johnson’s “Keepin’ Love New” gets a wonderful, modern-day soul treatment by vocalist and drummer Weston “Wez” Foster who used to be in the group Second Image (first album from 1983). And the brilliant Tawatha Agee is back for a track from Belgian artist/producer Vito De Luca who calls himself Aeroplane. “Love On Hold” actually harks back to the 80s with keyboard sounds and arrangement revisiting some of the best work of those glory days and reminding me of the group Change. Tawatha still sounds sublime.
There is more of course on this 15-tracker: the very 80s sounding “2nd Time Around” by Tuxedo with its David Joseph “You Can’t Hide Your Love”-like opening turns into a Dynasty/Shalamar/Whispers track. Great stuff. We also get a track from Leela James’ new album “Did It For Love”: “There 4 U” has a great shuffling groove and sexy brass and backing vocal arrangement. The bass line is pretty strong and once again so early 80s. Mike City has released his magical “The Feel Good Agenda” album earlier this year featuring a lot of brilliant vocalists like Maysa, Lalah Hathaway, or Dwele. Included here is the Faith Evans-led “When I Luv”. The light house track blends fantastically well with the two vocalists – there is also a Kenny Dope remix around!
Coming from a 2018 album is “Lost Without You” by Will Sessions & Amp Fiddler. Will Sessions, a group from Detroit, also go back to the early 80s with their extravagant vocal arrangement and typical keys and bass from that era. Reference track could be “Seventh Heaven” by Gwen Guthrie (1983). Very relaxing and soothing is the midtempo “It’s All Divine” from James Day featuring Trina Broussard, Tim Owens, U-Nam & Joe Cunningham. It’s culled from James’ “Song, Soul & Spirit” album which also features classy vocalists like Glenn Jones, Audrey Wheeler, and Gordon Chambers.
Jay King (of Club Nouveau fame) is included here with a track from his new “Helen’s Son” album – “Good Kinda Lovin'” is going back to those golden Marvin Gaye years. “Doublin’ Down” by The Jack Moves is a cute little ditty – too short but with a lot of potential in its sunny hook. A lot of artists here that are completely new to me, like London-based singer Emma-Louise Bucknor who calls herself Soulful Emma-Louise or simply S.E.L. Her crystalline voice on the handclap-heavy “Flowered Tears” is pretty infectious. Weston Foster is back here with The Groove Association and Georgie B & Everis on “One For The Money”. The Gold Digger Remix is pure and classy soul at its best.
Speaking of James Mtume, his “Back To You” (written with Reggie Lucas for Lou Rawls back in 1982) is returning here with a version by Paul Craver, sticking pretty close to the original and losing nothing of its charme. And remember “Kissing You” by Keith Washington from 1991? The timeless ballad is re-done as a housey dance track by Wipe The Needle featuring Lifford Shillingford. Could be another one out of the Bluey book. And it works very well. Oh and by the way this amazing compilation opens with the very dependable Omar on a track by Los Charly’s Orchestra: “History” is the perfect lead track shuffling along brilliantly and majestically.