A much deserved celebration of the genius of Webster Lewis. I first came across his name on Merry Clayton‘s 1980 LP “Emotion”, where the sort-of title track, “Give Me Some Emotion”, immediately hit me with its utterly deep soul and jazzy Rhodes playing. Finding one of his solo albums was a pretty hard task, even in the mid- to late 80s, but I finally got hold of a copy of his 1979 masterpiece “8 For The 80s” in a record shop in Amsterdam which threw out many of its import records. Co-produced by none other than Herbie Hancock, who also plays Clavinet and Synths here, it has certainly stood the test of time, with dance-heavy tracks such as the album opener “You Deserve To Dance” or the original version of “Give Me Some Emotion”, sung by Johnny Baker (not as catchy as the Clayton version, but still). But it is the richness and the ethereal thickness and brimming soul-jazz-funk of the sublime “The Love You Give To Me” which was, and still is, the album’s highlight. Listen to the handclaps, the celestial and soaring strings, Herbie’s clavinet in the background, and Webster’s brilliant Rhodes solo. And don’t forget the heavenly vocals, courtesy of Sylvia Cox, Carmen Twillie, Cheryl Pitts, and co. Sublime and timeless.
The track is actually part of a long deserved compilation of Webster’s work, a 16-piece collection released by the wonderful folks at Expansion Records in the UK. It focuses on the four albums Webster put out for Epic Records between 1976 and 1981, starting with “On The Town” which is represented here with two tracks: “Do It With Style” with lead vocals by the great Bruce Gray and backing by Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benson, and Carla Benton. A smooth and soulful midtempo swayer still relevant today. As is “Love Is The Way”, another excellent and elegant piece which comes across as the perfect melange of pop, soul, and jazz.
Webster’s “Touch My Love” LP came out in 1978 and four of its seven tracks are featured here. We still can’t get enough of the urgency and brilliance of “Hideaway” and the Latin-infused “Barbara Ann”, a club favorite and irresistibly optimistic track. The title track, classy, with glossy production and superb vocals and its E,W&F-style groove, is part of the set here as well. As is the wonderful “There’s A Happy Feeling”. The production and arrangement remain absolutely refreshing and luxurious, mesmerizing vocals and percussion underscore a funky bass in the second half of the song. Splendid!
Five tracks from Webster’s final album for Epic, “Let Me Be The One” from 1981, are featured. The album was co-produced by Skip Scarborough and features a stellar cast of musicians and another top-notch production with a vast amount of people helping out. The Ramsey Lewis-styled, midtempo Rhodes anthem “Dancer” is included, as is the Jazz-funk-latin classic “El Bobo”with Willie Bobo himself on percussion. And it really feels good to come back to “You Are My Life” again, sounding like a successor to George Benson’s “Love X Love”. It has that Rod Temperton quality to it. Brilliant stuff.
There are a few unreleased tracks here as well (the Rhodes-heavy “Reach Out” for example), also out now for the first time on vinyl. This is essential stuff if you haven’t been able to track down Webster’s albums yet.