Title - Free: The Columbia/ARC Recordings [8CD]
Artist - Deniece Williams
SoulMusic Records is very proud to present a deluxe box set of the 11 Columbia and ARC albums by award-winning icon Deniece Williams released between 1976-1988.
A constant presence on the contemporary music scene as a soul, pop and gospel best-selling artist and distinguished songwriter, Niecy (as she has been known since her early 70ís tenure with Stevie Wonderís female background vocalists Wonderlove) has racked up over 25 charted hits, all of which can be found on the eight discs that comprise this first-of-its-kind full showcase of her distinctive and influential music, Free Ė The Columbia / Arc Recordings 1976-1988.
Combining her 1976 gold-certified debut solo LP, NIECY with the follow-up SONG BIRD (1977) Ė the former produced by the late Maurice White (of EW&F fame) and the late Charles Stepney, the latter produced by White Ė the 15 tracks include the timeless classic Free and Niecyís long-time show closer God Is Amazing.
Disc One: THIS IS NIECY / SONG BIRD
1. ITíS IMPORTANT TO ME
2. THATíS WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR
3. HOWíD I KNOW THAT LOVE WOULD SLIP AWAY
4. íCAUSE YOU LOVE ME BABY
6. WATCHING OVER
7. IF YOU DONíT BELIEVE
9. THE BOY I LEFT BEHIND
10. WE HAVE LOVE FOR YOU
11. GOD IS AMAZING
12. BABY, BABY MY LOVES ALL FOR YOU
14. BE GOOD TO ME
15. THE PAPER
To listen to just the first seconds of this amazing THIS IS NIECY
release shows that God does indeed bless certain people with voices of an angel.
Deniece possesses an amazing vocal range and is most comfortable at her highest falsetto and, of course, she also sings with an intense emotional range, living within and embodying every song she sings.
The top numbers here are, of course, the huge hit FREE - where she liltingly caresses each note and makes the song an R&B ballad of emotional beauty - along with IF YOU DONíT BELIEVE, and we also have the jamming ITíS IMPORTANT TO ME and íCAUSE YOU LOVE ME BABY.
The songs on this album, her sophomore, are slightly jazz-inflected in comparison with the earlier material, but, of course, her voice is equally well suited to the sweet-and-sour notes of THE BOY I LEFT BEHIND, with its fantastic high notes near the end.
Not that she is stuck in a low groove at the end of the funky opener, TIME, either. WE HAVE LOVE FOR YOU is more mid-tempo, a broadening of the tone recorded on two tracks which diverge on the chorus, both tracks sung by Deniece.
Two of the best numbers, in my humble opinion, are BABY, BABY MY LOVES ALL FOR YOU and BE GOOD TO ME- both happy and somehow faintly melancholy, even with a castanet in the background.
Next up is an expanded edition of THATíS WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR, 1978ís international best-selling LP of duets with the iconic Johnny Mathis and three bonus tracks, the across-the-board global No. 1 Too Much, Too Little, Too Late as well as versions of The Bee Gees-penned Emotion and a 1984 rendition of Major Harris Love Wont Let Me Wait.
Disc Two: JOHNNY MATHIS & DENIECE WILLIAMS: THATíS WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR (EXPANDED EDITION)
1. YOUíRE ALL I NEED TO GET BY
2. UNTIL YOU COME BACK TO ME (THATS WHAT IíM GONNA DO)
3. YOURE A SPECIAL PART OF MY LIFE
4. READY OR NOT
5. ME FOR YOU, YOU FOR ME
6. YOUR PRECIOUS LOVE
7. JUST THE WAY YOU ARE
8. THATíS WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR
9. I JUST CANT GET OVER YOU
10. TOUCHING ME WITH LOVE
11. TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE (Bonus Track)
12. EMOTION (Bonus Track)
13. LOVE WONT LET ME WAIT (Bonus Track)
Johnny Mathis and Denieceís made a mighty fine team on this collection of sentimental love songs and light pop ballads. They had had previous success on the title track, which had been included on her first release, so they opted for a full session.
They had a moderate hit with a cover of Youíre All I Need To Get By, and they also reworked Stevie Wonders Until You Come Back To Me (Thatís What Iím Going To Do), which peaked at Number 19 on the pop chart - and actually proved Williams most consistent album from a sales standpoint.
Furthermore, their voices compliment each other so very well over the tracks, inclusive now of the three wonderful bonus cuts, but as was the way back then, the disc only runs for about 40 mins or so.
WHEN LOVE COMES CALLING (1979) with production by Ray Parker Jr. and David Foster includes the R&B/dance hit Iíve Got The Next Dance; and 1981s MY MELODY teams Deniece with legendary Philly soul producer/songwriter Thom Bell resulting in charted singles, Silly and Its Your Conscience.
Disc Three: WHEN LOVE COMES CALLING / MY MELODY
1. I FOUND LOVE
2. ARE YOU THINKING?
3. MY PRAYER
4. IíVE GOT THE NEXT DANCE
5. TOUCH ME AGAIN
6. WHEN LOVE COMES CALLING
7. GOD KNOWS
8. LIKE MAGIC
9. TURN AROUND
10. WHY CANíT WE FALL IN LOVE?
11. MY MELODY
12. ITíS YOUR CONSCIENCE
15. WHAT TWO CAN DO
16. YOUíRE ALL THAT MATTERS
18. SWEET SURRENDER
This third album was a great step for her career, as she ventured more into the pop/mainstream scene, but she never sold out. This is her first pop record and none of her vocal stylings, inspired interpretations or superb song selections are in question.
At this time disco was the craze and all artists had to do their disco song. For Deniece, it was IíVE GOT THE NEXT DANCE and it is amazing. It is true disco, but as with most disco where the beat overpowers the vocals, she still shines above the great rhythm and music track.
She also shines brightly as she ventures into pop with I FOUND LOVE, WHEN LOVE COMES CALLING and TURN AROUND, as they are all world class gems to behold (although for those fearing, her true soul/R&B roots are still here, have no doubt).
After working with various producers and some, in 1981 Deniece found an arranger/producer in Philly soul legend Thom Bell with whom the chemistry very much melding almost immediately. This then brought forth her tender, but nonetheless haunting voice now perfectly embedded in its buttery, plush soundscape.
In general, this is a little Philly Soul reunion, with Bobby Eli on guitar and Don Renaldo, who is responsible for strings and horns. Maybe not completely up-to-date for 1981, but on the other hand also typical of the post-disco productions that have proven from time to time that an opulent and homegrown sound was still possible in the early 80ís.
Deniece and Thom Bell followed up with 1982s NIECY included one of her biggest hits, a cover of The Royaletteís Itís Gonna Take A Miracle; while the 1983 set IM SO PROUD marked the beginning of Denieceís work with late musical maestro George Duke on several tracks such as the title cut, a revival of the Curtis Mayfield-penned classic.
Disc Four: NIECY / IíM SO PROUD
1. WAITING BY THE HOTLINE
2. ITíS GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE
3. LOVE NOTES
4. I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES
5. HOW DOES IT FEEL
7. NOW IS THE TIME FOR LOVE
8. A PART OF LOVE
9. DO WHAT YOU FEEL
10. IíM SO PROUD
11. SO DEEP IN LOVE
12. IíM GLAD ITS YOU
13. HEAVEN IN YOUR EYES
14. THEY SAY
15. LOVE, PEACE AND UNITY
16. ITS OKAY
Denieceís Niecy, released in 1982, was the Divas fifth studio album and is perfection from beginning to end. Williams continues her team up with maestro Thom Bell to co-produce this solid effort and the results are magic from start to finish.
Williams scored her biggest solo hit to date with her take on ITS GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE, which went Top 10. Denieceís rendition of the Royaletteís classic is that rare instance when the re-make is an improvement on the original.
But the game does not end there. LOVE NOTES is a gorgeous breezy R&B song, as is WAITING BY THE HOTLINE, and HOW DOES IT FEEL grooves along in similar vein.
I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, NOW IS THE TIME FOR LOVE and A PART OF LOVE all slow down the pace and foreshadow Williams eventual move into Gospel.
This release from Deniece, IíM SO PROUD, is priceless! Her soaring multi-octave voice on these selections is unmatched. I especially love her pitch perfect delivery on the title track (which became a Top 30 R&B hit) and LOVE, PEACE AND UNITY, two of my own personal favorites here.
The gorgeous IM GLAD ITS YOU and the smooth mid tempo THEY SAY, the uplifting album closer ITS OK and the jazzy HEAVEN IN YOUR EYES, the latter which became a moderate R&B hit and a club favorite) are all wonderful too, but the uplifting DO WHAT YOU FEEL - became a Top 10 R&B hit and also enjoyed a successful run as a club favorite - is yet another stand out for me.
LETíS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY (1984) Ė title track produced by George Duke Ė brought Deniece her biggest global smash as well as the classic Black Butterfly while she began producing herself (with Greg Mathieson) for a number of cuts for the LP as well as the follow up album, 1986s HOT ON THE TRAIL.
Disc Five: LETíS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY / HOT ON THE TRAIL
1. LETíS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY
2. I WANT YOU
3. PICKING UP THE PIECES
4. BLACK BUTTERFLY
5. NEXT LOVE
6. HAUNTING ME
7. DONíT TELL ME WE HAVE NOTHING
8. BLIND DATING
9. WRAPPED UP
10. WHITER THAN SNOW
11. WISER AND WEAKER
12. HOT ON THE TRAIL
13. HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT
15. I FEEL THE NIGHT
16. WERE TOGETHER
17. STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
As we all know, in 1984, Deniece had a monster smash, the #1 hit LETíS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY from the movie Footloose, but so unprepared was her record company for this hit that an album was hurriedly recorded to capitalize on that!
The result was 10 track album entitled LETS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY, and which displayed a diverse array of styles from the Pop/Dance Grammy nominated title track, the smooth R&B of NEXT LOVE, PICKING UP THE PIECES and the humorous BLIND DATING.
The synth rock/dance (a style very prevalent in the 80ís and done by people like Diana Ross, Pointer Sisters and Donna Summer also) comes to the fore on both WRAPPED UP and HAUNTING ME (the latter, my absolute favorite, as I love that killer synth and the thundering drums), and we also get the Grammy-nominated, Gospel organ driven ballad WHITER THAN THE SNOW (which shows Deniece putting her 4 octave bird-like soprano vocals to outstanding use).
Sadly, her follow-up album HOT ON THE TRAIL failed to hit the pop charts and fizzed out at #58 on the R&B charts. Despite the mediocre chart showing, it did, however, spawn some wonderfully energetically charged performances.
However, the lead of single, WISER AND WEAKER is a Calypso, rhythmic jam that did respectable on the dance charts (#24)(#60 R&B). It was produced by well known producer, Greg Mathieson, who worked with the likes of Sheena Easton Laura Branigan and Donna Summer in the 80s, amongst others.
Whilst that track was indeed rather strong, it seems it just was not given the proper promotion, as with it, I am pretty certain it could have reached the upper stratosphere of the pop and R&B charts.
HEALING, the second and final single, from the collection, is an inspiring and moving ballad, that Deniece does all so well and which charted #76 on the R&B chart.
The next disc is a standalone reissue of 1987S WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE, produced by Steve Levine (known for his work with Culture Club and many others), features US R&B charted singles I Confess and Never Say Never.
Disc Six: WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE
1. I CONFESS
2. NEVER SAY NEVER
3. WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE
4. LOVE FINDS YOU
5. NOT BY CHANCE
6. ONE LESS LONELY HEART
7. I BELIEVE IN YOU
8. SOMEONE FOR SOMEONE
9. BABY THIS IS LOVE
10. DONíT BLAME IT ON MY HEART
As always, I personally thought the album was great, showcasing strong emotive vocals on a variety of songs that could have been hits on the R&B, pop, adult contemporary and even gospel charts.
Even though the album came out during a time when R&B music was in flux and heading toward the New Jack sound, WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE was firmly rooted in late 80ís production values.
Inclusive of a heavy synth line and percussion, but also with a strong horn and keyboard section, and audibly reminiscent of 70ís soul music, which added depth and maturity to the project and a richer tone, the album was pure musical gold for me.
Her voice really touches the listener with songs like I CONFESS (with shades of LETíS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY), the title track and NOT BY CHANCE (think BLACK BUTTERFLY and SILLY, respectively), I BELIEVE IN YOU (inspiring gospel track), and BABY THIS IS LOVE (think a slower tempo WHEN LOVE COMES CALLING) along with the rest of the tracks.
1988s AS GOOD AS IT GETS completed Denieceís Columbia tenure, with production by Monte Moir (Of The Time), Brad Westering and George Duke and includes the Michael Jackson-co-penned We Are Here To Change The World and Top 10 US R&B hit I Cant Wait.
Disc Seven: AS GOOD AS IT GETS
1. I CANíT WAIT
2. THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS
3. WE ARE HERE TO CHANGE THE WORLD
4. ALL I NEED
6. THEREíS NO OTHER
7. I AM SURE
8. ITíS YOU IíM AFTER
9. DONíT STOP THE LOVE
10. HOLD ME TIGHT
Deniece really took the 80s by the scruff of the neck on this red hot balance of bouncy R&B pop tunes and slick love ballads! The second side (as I personally had the vinyl LP) is a continuum for this format, but unfortunately the material is not as strong as the opening material.
While the lead single, I CANíT WAIT is a catchy, pop-minded ditty, the true treasures lie in the more soulful album cuts. Take the entrancing ALL I NEED, drenched with sparkling keyboards and heartfelt lyrics (seemingly about her own children), or the dreamlike DONíT STOP THE LOVE, filled with moody motifs and a simple-yet-heavenly chorus, or the passionate MEMORIES.
The production of the love ballads sound much like Earth, Wind & Fire tunes if they had a female vocalist, which was beginning to show in her production values a few years before, and even though it was not a huge hit, it is still very much a solid output for all her enthusiasts to fawn over.
The eighth and final disc comprises 15 tracks with a selection of single edits including the Verdine White co-penned Baby, Baby My Loves All For You (1977) and Do What You Feel (1983) as well as 12 Inch disco mixes of I Found Love (1979), the 12 Inch version of Lets Hear It For The Boy (1984) and 12 Inch extended versions of Wiser And Weaker(1986) and Never Say Never (1987).
Disc Eight: BONUS TRACKS
1. FREE (LONG SINGLE VERSION)
2. BABY BABY MY LOVES ALL FOR YOU
(PROMOTIONAL SINGLE VERSION)
3. SILLY (SINGLE VERSION)
4. ITíS YOUR CONSCIENCE (SINGLE VERSION)
5. ITíS GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE (SINGLE VERSION)
6. DO WHAT YOU FEEL (SINGLE VERSION)
7. ITíS OKAY (SINGLE VERSION)
8. I FOUND LOVE (12 INCH DISCO MIX)
9. IíVE GOT THE NEXT DANCE (12 INCH DISCO MIX)
10. LETíS HEAR IT FOR THE BOY (12 INCH VERSION)
11. NEXT LOVE (12 INCH VERSION)
12. THE WISER GETS WEAKER (12 INCH EXTENDED VERSION)
13. NEVER SAY NEVER (12 INCH EXTENDED VERSION)
14. I CONFESS (12 INCH DANCE MIX)
15. I CANíT WAIT (12″ VERSION)
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