Friday, June 20, 2008

The return of Grace Jones?

Although there have been sporadic leaks of information about her upcoming album "Corporate Cannibal" for several years now, after some of the false-starts of the past, I wasn't going to about to get too excited until something definite showed up. To be completely honest, I've long been meaning to write something about Grace on this blog, but for me Grace is just one of those artists whom I've so admired and cherished, that I've often felt too intimidated to even start. Her voice, her sensibility and her outrageousness - that mix of charm and utter recklessness in her persona has always fascinated me.

As far the latest comeback goes, I suppose there's less and less reason now to doubt it's imminence. Having performed yesterday at London's Meltdown Festival (curated this year by Massive Attack), and with the widespead press coverage and glowing reviews that she has recieved, I can only assume that this really is for real this time. She apparently performed four new songs and showed a new video for "Corporate Cannibal."

Apparently this is one of the new tracks.



Grace Jones - This Is Life
Uploaded by ImpatraZ

A video of the video for "Corporate Cannibal." Directed by Nick Hooker.



Grace Jones - Corporate Cannibal video
Uploaded by boris99gj

This is my voice, my weapon of choice.. More on Grace to come..

CATEGORIES: DISCO NEWS

Disco Delivery #55:
Cissy Houston - Step Aside For A Lady (1980, Columbia)



Cissy Houston - You're The Fire
Cissy Houston - It Doesn't Only Happen At Night
Cissy Houston - Step Aside For A Lady
Cissy Houston - What I Miss
Cissy Houston - Gonna Take The Easy Way Out
Cissy Houston - Break It To Me Gently


File links updated 10/26/08

Although I've opined about Cissy Houston here before, to me, hers is one of those voices which beautifully and superbly united the worlds of disco and soul. A voice with depth, passion and power, never sliding into needless histrionics, there was also a gentleness and a genuiness there underscoring the power of her voice.. Although her own contributions have been overshadowed by the fame of her daughter, her vocals have left their mark on many a classic, having racked up a number of credits as a backup vocalist, particularly with many disco producers and disco albums of the time..

Looking past the absolutely garish, hideous cover art (which looks more like a really badly executed Christmas ad), musically, on this, her second disco record (released on Columbia in the US, EMI in the UK) and third with noted producer Michael Zager; Houston, Zager and Company pretty much pick up here where "Think It Over" (1978, Private Stock) left off. Although they seem to fine-tune and streamline their approach somewhat into a more consistent groove, especially with the disco tracks, they nevertheless stay largely within the same formula. While she doesn't attack anything with quite the same soulful vigour and drama as "Think It Over," the disco songs on the album are all especially and equally solid, building on the good points of the previous album, making what amounts to a record that's just as strong, if not even better.

Notably, the album's first side begins and ends with ballads. An interesting move, given that much of the album was loaded with disco tracks. Perhaps it was a sign of the times; an attempt, with disco's waning currency, to de-emphasize the 'disco' and give a different first impression. Certainly not the first time I've seen such a thing done.. Whether or not that was the case, somehow I suspect if the album had been released a year earlier, it would have most likely been the reverse. Whatever the circumstances though, the opening track nevertheless makes for a positive impression. A version of "Break It To Me Gently" (no relation to the Brenda Lee song, though not sure if Cissy's is the original of this one or not), later covered by Angela Bofill, it's placement at the start of the album probably takes away from some of it's effect, yet the performance itself is flawless. While the ballad-weary might find her dramatic, edge-of-tears reading to be a tad cloying; from her gentle reticence, to those desperate climaxes, Houston makes truly makes most of the moment. It seems reminiscent in some way of the approach that she took on much of her sublimely soulful 1977 self-titled record, where this song wouldn't have been out of place..

After the brief ballad intro, the album goes into disco mode with "You're The Fire," which would have perhaps been a more representative opening track. With prominent horns and bass, string embellishments; dramatic, towering vocals, even a plonky synth break, it's a trademark Michael Zager track of the time. As much as that works in it's favour, with it's endless lyrical with references to 'fire,''flames' and 'burning,' it's perhaps the most formulaic of the disco tracks on the album, with parts of the song sounding oddly similar to The Spinners' "Disco Ride" (listen to the bass and synth parts), yet another Zager production.

The following track however, "It Doesn't Only Happen At Night," one of the singles and perhaps the best remembered song off the album, would undoubtedly have to be one of the record's highlights. It's a slickly produced song, a piece of towering, infernal disco with an infectious opening bassline, swanky guitars, ornate keys, dramatic stabs of horns, strings and drums. All of it complimented with a vocal that powers through it all, unlocking the passion and release of the song's lyrics. The end of the chorus is really the killer here, with it's climax of pounding drums and blaring horns, one of those things that immediately brings to mind the the high points of her previous disco hits. Along with "You're The Fire," this song would end up peaking at a modest #24 in the Billboard Club Play charts in April 1980. The following year, Geraldine Hunt would also do a version of this song, which I haven't yet heard for myself, but which seems to be fondly remembered as well..

After ending Side One with "Just One Man," the only another ballad, the album really finds it's groove with the three disco tracks on Side Two. Opening with the title track, "Step Aside For A Lady," sporting a hooky bassline and sly guitar, it's a hot little stepper which seems as good an excuse as any for Cissy to inject a bit of bold diva attitude into the procedings. A perfect 'entrance' track, one would wonder how many drag queens would have dug this one back in the day.. Best part for me are those climactic horn stabs, a Zager trademark, at the beginning of the chorus and of course, the great break half-way through, with the bassline right up in the mix..

"What I Miss," the middle track on Side Two takes the tempo down a little bit from the other tracks, a nice respite from the other big, elaborate, string-laden disco productions that seemed to be her and Zager's calling card at the time. Cissy, who doesn't hold back with her vocals, even on this track, provides both the perfect accompaniment and balance to the groove, riding with it, yet infusing the track with enough personality and excitement to keep things from getting too plodding. With it's funkier, more laid-back bass-driven groove, this one's probably one of my personal favourites on the album..

From there, the album ends things on yet another high point with "Gonna Take The Easy Way Out," one of Zager's trademark full, rich productions - signature horn riffs and elegant strings underscored by a classy, almost Chic-esque guitar, this has to be one of her most underrated disco tracks. In fact hearing this track was what eventually convinced me to track this LP down, easily the highest point of disco drama on the album, it also has to be one of her finest vocal performances on the record, with the track's gentle buildup giving her the perfect opportunity for both vocal subtlety in the beginning and intensity, especially with those ad-libs.. Also of note on the vocals are great call-and-response interplay with the backgrounds on here, where a pre-fame Luther Vandross and his ultra smooth vocals really shine through (also notable: the wonderful, prolific Jocelyn Brown is yet another backup vocalist on the album). ".. Easy Way Out" was released on a 12", but judging from the timings listed, it seems the 12" version was pretty much identical to the LP version in this case.

Although this album, with it's unfortunate artwork and slightly awkward sequencing, is hardly flawless, the songs and the performances themselves are uniformly strong and exciting, the good points far outweigh the negative.. Even if the sound on here was a progression from her previous album; for the most part, it's still pretty much in keeping with Zager's production style at the time for acts like The Spinners, Ronnie Dyson etc... Perhaps it's both a good and a bad thing - on the one hand, the production values are excellent. However, on the other hand, by the time this album was released in 1980, Zager's richly produced, slick disco sound (not to mention disco in general) was likely considered so dated/passé by then, with all the things that had happened in the music industry, it probably wouldn't have stood much of a chance anyway. Although considering how, at the turn of the 80's, how many once vital disco acts seemed to rush out sub-par releases, either out of contractual obligation, or in an attempt to keep up with trends (or both), with this album being as strong as it is, perhaps this was still a triumph in it's own small way. Call it a victim of it's time, I guess..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #22: SPINNERS - DANCIN' & LOVIN' (1979, ATLANTIC) (MONDAY JUNE 5, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #8: CISSY HOUSTON - THINK IT OVER (1978, PRIVATE STOCK) (FRIDAY FEBRUARY 24, 2006)

LINKS:
CISSY HOUSTON - STEP ASIDE FOR A LADY LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
CISSY HOUSTON - STEP ASIDE FOR A LADY LP @ RATEYOURMUSIC.COM
CISSY HOUSTON - GONNA TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT 12'' @ DISCOGS
CISSY HOUSTON SINGLES DISCOGRAPHY @ SOULFUL KINDA MUSIC
CISSY HOUSTON @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
CISSY HOUSTON @ DISCO MUSEUM
CISSY HOUSTON @ WIKIPEDIA
MYCENTRALJERSEY.COM - CISSY HOUSTON LOOKS BACK ON A LIFE OF PRAISE AND SONG (BY CRISTIAN A. FARIAS) (JUNE 12, 2008)

MICHAEL ZAGER INTERVIEW @ DISCO-DISCO
MICHAEL ZAGER @ DISCOGS
MICHAEL ZAGER @ WIKIPEDIA

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES

Friday, June 06, 2008

Real Live #10



Edwin Starr - Real Live #10 (1981, 20th Century Fox)

Gradually getting back to regular programming on here, I had recently picked up this 12" by one the late Edwin Starr, one of my favourite Motown soul shouters. One of Edwin's last singles, if not his very last for the 20th Century Fox label, and also the first of many one-off singles he would do throughout the 80's and 90's, mostly in the UK where he would record for/with the likes of Stock Aitken Waterman, the 1986 Paul Hardcastle-produced Disco Aid project and even Chaka Khan and the Utah Saints among others.

This single, produced by Edwin himself, is no "War" or even another "Contact," but a rather good attempt at a more early 80's post-disco boogie style. Although his explosive voice is rather contained on this one, it's a much better attempt at updating his sound than much of what was on his his last 20th Century Fox album from the previous year, "Stronger Than You Think I Am" (1980, 20th Century Fox) which overall, seemed a tad dated for 1980. By this point, it seemed Edwin hadn't been backed by a groove this funky in quite a while. For me, it's those jagged, meaty guitars that really make the groove of this record, especially in the break at around the 5.30 point where they get the mix all to themselves..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #37: MIDNIGHT RHYTHM (1978, ATLANTIC) (WEDNESDAY MARCH 14, 2007)

LINKS:
EDWIN STARR OFFICIAL SITE
EDWIN STARR - REAL LIVE #10 12'' @ DISCOGS
BOTH SIDES NOW - 20TH CENTURY FOX RECORDS
THEO LOYLA INTERVIEW @ DJ'S PORTAL (INFO ON 1986 DISCO AID PROJECT)
BBC NEWS - SOUL LEGEND EDWIN STARR DIES (THURSDAY APRIL 3, 2003)

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

R.I.P. Barry Lederer


I just want to take a moment to acknowledge news of writer, DJ and all-around disco pioneer Barry Lederer's recent passing. Although I hadn't known him too well, I had briefly communicated with him via email after a nice comment he had left on one of my entries nearly a year ago. With this news, I now regret having lost touch with him since then. I remember him being friendly and surprisingly open and as far as myself, I remember being absolutely flattered that a pioneer like him, one who was as knowledgable as he was, would even be interested in talking with me.

Among other things, he was a major contributor to the disco movement as not only as a DJ, but as a writer for Billboard's "Disco Mix" column from 1976-82 and not to mention his work with the renowned Graebar Sound System, which had graced some of the greatest discos in the US. In our brief conversations, I now remember him even mentioning how he was thinking of writing a book about the disco era. While I'm not sure if that ever got off the ground, it's unfortunate that we won't have that priviledge anymore. Despite that, with the various interviews and contributions he has made to various disco websites in recent years, he nonetheless remained instrumental and generous in documenting disco music and the disco experience. Rest in peace, Barry.

Listen to an interview he did in 2006 with Morgan Geist on RBMA Radio (interview starts at the half-way mark/second hour).

UPDATE: Barry's sister recently emailed me to let me know that a tribute website has been set up at discobarry.com. There's an email address at the top of the page where one can submit their thoughts, prayers and memories, which will be published on the website.. Updates on the memorial service they will be hosting will be posted on the site as well..

(photo credit: djsportal.com)

INTERVIEW LINKS:
DISCO-DISCO.COM INTERVIEW
DISCOMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
DJ'S PORTAL INTERVIEW
HOTDISCOMIX INTERVIEW
RBMA RADIO: PERSONAL - INTERVIEW WITH MORGAN GEIST

LINKS:
BARRY LEDERER TRIBUTE SITE
DISCOMUSIC.COM FORUMS - DISCO DJ BARRY LEDERER PASSED AWAY (MAY 31, 2008)
DJ HISTORY FORUMS - BARRY LEDERER R.I.P. (JUNE 2, 2008)
DISCO-DISCO.COM - COLUMNS BY BARRY LEDERER
MYSPACE - BARRY LEDERER
DISCOMUSIC.COM - CONTRIBUTIONS BY BARRY LEDERER

CATEGORIES: IN MEMORIAM.., DISCO NEWS

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