1975: Arista/BMG/Buddha 74465 99803 2
My sister had this record when we were in our teens and it was a solid favorite for both of us. As soon as it was released on CD I got us each a copy, and weve been rocking out to it happily ever after. Although theres a too-sugary tinge to some of it, as with much excessive-1970s-radio fare, it also has some great bumpin-and-grindin material such as Love Havin You Around and Its Gonna Be Alright. Midnight Blue got played to death in the mid-70s, so I never liked it, and that was the case with Just Too Many People as well. The final track, by Randy Newman, is really, really good.
Another thing this record had/has going for it is its kick-ass studio band. I dont know if she ever got to play these tracks in concert with those musicians, but I do know they laid down some fine stuff of the caliber of the Blues Brothers soundtrack. An outstanding encapsulation of this quality can be found on Love Havin You Around, which rips into action with some keyboard flourishes that make me gasp in appreciation even now, and then thumps sensuously into a nasty groove that tugs and teases, throwing itself off-balance in the passion of its choruses before resuming with more intent for the next choruss bigger build. Ive not yet heard Stevies original version of this one, as Ive had this rendition solidly in my consciousness for nearly 30 years, and the archly hot brass-keyboard-drums work here keeps me enslaved. Plus which, of course, Melissas vocal delivery is exactly up to the challenge presented by the arrangement (and possibly a touch greater, but maybe thats a matter of tastes).
I consider myself very fortunate to have had this album introduced to my musical spectrum when it was, because, although the 1970s certainly provided the world with an amazing array of drearily ego-bloated bombastic singer/songwriter outings that belatedly thought they could tap a momentary (and past) trends morbid swan song, there truly were a handful of genuine musicians presenting worthy albums then. This is one of those, for me anyway, and what still strikes me (and continues to convince me that its solid) is Manchesters vocal immediacy and intimacy: these tracks (or at least the ones Im highlighting here) are as fresh and engrossing for me now as they were three decades ago. Mostly theyre also fine pop compositions (whether by her, Stevie Wonder & Syreeta Wright, Carol Bayer Sager, Randy Newman, or co-written with instrumentalists), but on the rockier numbers things certainly get a dirtier and hotter delivery than is written into the song itself.
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.