Thursday, February 08, 2007
Disco Delivery #34:
Unyque - Makes Me Higher... (1979, DJM)
Unyque - Keep On Making Me High
Unyque - Party Down
Unyque - It's Hot
Unyque - Disco Lullaby
Unyque - Grand Slam
A little something on the lighter side this week courtesy of producers Freida Nerangis and Britt Britton (AKA Vernon Britton).
Nerangis and Britton were, most notably, behind most of the albums by the Crown Heights Affair (as their producers, and apparently their managers). Aside from Crown Heights Affair, Nerangis and Britton were also behind a couple of one-off projects, namely Made in U.S.A. and this album.
Released 1979 on the American arm of big-time music publisher Dick James' DJM Records label, the sound on this project is, quite appropriately, significantly different from their work with Crown Heights Affair and on the Made in U.S.A. album.. Taking the essence of their style and kicking up the disco quotient a few notches, "Makes Me Higher..." is nothing more and nothing less than a straightforward, richly produced, high-energy disco album. That's not to say that it necessarily bears a direct resemblance to the sharp, electronic pulse of early '80s Hi-NRG, yet pretty much all the tracks, compared to their previous work, have a faster, heavier, propulsive, dare-you-not-to-dance groove to it. All of the elements on the album seemingly working together in beat-by-beat unison towards a single goal: to get you up on the dancefloor, partying down, getting high on the music (and perhaps other things as well). In that way it differs somewhat from the big-band disco-funk groove of, say, their production on Crown Heights Affair's "Dreaming A Dream," or tracks like "Melodies" and "Never Gonna Let You Go," by Made in U.S.A., all of which seem to have a lighter, more easy-going groove to them. In addition to the tempo, and perhaps the more streamlined backing tracks, the lyrics on the album are never one to get in the way of the overall guiding purpose either. They are, to paraphrase Grace Jones, slaves to the rhythm, for the most part. It's that sort of thing which often makes the lyrics on this and other disco albums easy targets for rock critics. Take those countdown lyrics on "It's Hot," and "Grand Slam," which, particularly in the former, seem to resemble nursery rhymes put to a beat.. Less of a singers' showcase and more of a key layer of rhythmic vocal accompaniment, if nothing else. Putting aside any rockist tendencies however, that's not to say they are in any way awful. A bit on the clichéd side perhaps, but nevertheless, they serve their purpose well, doing their dancefloor duty like nothing else.
The most arresting track on the album is, quite appropriately, the opener "Keep On Making Me High," with those uplifting vocals, hypnotic handclaps lead by that irresistable piano-guitar-horn combo. Those vocals, along with the horns are probably the key uplifting element in all this, especially when the vocals hit that peak verse: "...and when I get it going...I'm gonna reach the sky.." Just the way the vocals gradually phase out after that verse, the best way I can describe the effect, is like a kind of hypnotic disco trance.. That relentless tempo, those sublime vocals, bright horns and sharp, spellbinding guitar all conspiring to seduce the listener to it's groove.. Literally taking the listener along, climbing high with the music. Topping it all off, there's also that great flamenco style break towards the end. The idea of it probably seems harsh and abrupt, but the result is actually beautifully surprising. It's like the tracks' culmination into a kind of lavish, twirling, exotic disco dream sequence, if you will..
The review of the album on discomusic.com mentions that "Keep On Making Me High" appears to be influenced a great deal by Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Shame" (minus the drama, of course). For whatever reason, I never really connected the dots until after listening to the two tracks back to back, but the combination of those piano chord progressions in certain places and that bold brass sound are probably the first things that strike me as similar.. It's most likely those similarities which might explain why, at first listen, "..Making Me High" manages to sound so appealing, yet so oddly familiar at the same time..
The other two tracks on side one pretty much pick up where "Keep On Making Me High" left off, never letting up on the groove, continuing that relentless dancefloor pace. "Party Down," is perhaps the other major standout on the A-side, especially with that sharp, infectious guitar work right up front, along with that galloping percussion and ever present horn section propelling things along. While "..Making Me High" was elevation, "Party Down" is just pure and simple, straight-ahead, full-tilt boogie.. The peak point is probably towards the end (or at least three-quarters of the way through) where one section starts off with that guitar refrain, followed by that wild synth effect (sounding like a kind of like a processed funk guitar), then followed by the horns and then all three together. A perfect breakdown if there ever was one..
"Disco Lullaby," the side two opener is, despite it's title, no snoozer. Highlighted by pretty male/female duet vocals and punctuated by a propulsive guitar/bass/drum combination, singlehandedly emphasizing the 'disco' element. The tempo is just as fast as the other tracks, yet it's perhaps the one song on the LP that comes closest to the more carefree 'fa-la-la-la' kind of groove Nerangis and Britton achieved on some of their earlier productions. It's allure is a little gentler, the vocals and lyrics given more detail and emphasis than on the other tracks. To be sure, a welcome change of pace; takes things down just enough to give a touch of variety, yet not so much that it breaks the mood and continuity of the whole thing..
The closer, "Grand Slam," with it's baseball metaphor for dancefloor cruising: "...when I'm through I'll get you all alone.. when I do I'm gonna drive it home.. ", takes things up a few notches again, working that background guitar for all it's worth... After the softer touch of "Disco Lullaby," this one takes things full circle in a way. That refrain as well as that tense, escalating guitar break/buildup towards the middle just totally get me going....
As far as the personnel on the album are concerned, interestingly no members of Crown Heights Affair or Made in U.S.A. are present. The most prolific contributor is Carlos Franzetti (mispelled as Carlos Frazetti on the album), credited for horn arrangements. After that, the only other contributor with traceable credits is one of the vocalists, Laurie Bogin, who had previously released an album in 1975 called "The Exceptional Laurie Bogin" (1975, Buddah).
So far, the Unyque LP is one of the last Nerangis/Britton productions that I've come across.. Into the 1980's, it would seem Nerangis and Britton would no longer be involved with the Crown Heights Affair, with Bert DeCoteaux producing their first album of the 1980's "Sure Shot" (1980, De-Lite) and later on group members Ray Reid and William Anderson taking production duties on their own albums and on other projects. Aside from this, one of the last productions by Nerangis/Britton (that I've come across anyway) were a couple of songs, "Brand New Key" and "Addicted To Your Love," by a singer named Jolina in 1980, also for the DJM label. Not sure if there was an album or any more singles for Jolina, but after that, there is pretty much no trace of any more productions by Nerangis and Britton. So far, the last thing I've seen Britt Britton involved in, was as the writer for a 1998 single by singer Anthony Moriah called "The Reality". Despite no longer being in the music business, a search on Freida Nerangis, however, had the most up-to-date information. Currently, Nerangis is the Executive Director for The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc., a New York theatre comapny whose mission is, according to their website: "...to present live theatre performances by and about black people to a culturally diverse audience that is often underserved by the theatrical community..."
To sum up, overall, the Unyque album is probably not the most distinctive or ambitious disco album out there; no paeans to survival or lost love and thankfully, no uninspired insipid ballads for the sake of "versatility" either. That said, it's hardly a detraction in this case. In fact, there's probably something to be said for the album's consistency. It's grooves singlehandedly aim for the dancefloor and that's exactly where it hits. The focus was danceability, no more, no less; it's perhaps that very thing which makes this album as consistent and solidly satisfying as it is.
Unfortunately, this album isn't on CD, nor are any of the tracks off of it. So far, I have yet to find any compilation CDs with any of the Unyque tracks on it, but if anyone else has, feel free to let me know..
Also, just cleaned up and added a bunch of great links over on the right... Check 'em out if you haven't already.. Special mention goes out to The Message Is The Music, a great new disco presence on the blogosphere.. Updates a lot more frequently than I do too, I have to say.. So if you haven't already, check it out!
UNYQUE - KEEP ON MAKING ME HIGH 12'' @ DISCOGS
UNYQUE - MAKES ME HIGHER... LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
FREIDA NERANGIS @ DISCOGS
BRITT BRITTON @ DISCOGS
DJM RECORDS @ DISCOGS
CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO..