required listening

CD Review

DIONNE WARWICK  -  Déjà Vu : The Arista Recordings (1979-1994)

Soul Music (UK) SMCR 5189BX (12cd box)

DIONNE... Who What When Where Why; After You; The Letter; I’ll Never Love This Way Again; Déjà Vu; Feeling Old Feelings; In Your Eyes; My Everlasting Love; Out Of My Hands; All The Time; Never Gonna Let You Get Away (solo + w/ Barry Manilow); The Last One To Be Loved; NO NIGHT SO LONG... Easy Love; No Night So Long; It’s The Falling In Love; When The World Runs Out Of Love; We Never Said Goodbye; How You Once Loved Me; Reaching For The Sky; Sweetie Pie; Somebody’s Angel; We Had This Time; Even A Fool Would Let Go; Dedicate This Heart; Now That The Feeling’s Gone; Starting Tomorrow; This Time Is Ours; Only Heaven Can Wait For Love; Right Back; When The Good Times Come Again; That Is What I’ve Wanted All My Life; HOT! LIVE & OTHERWISE... What You Won’t Do For Love/In The Stone; Don’t Make Me Over; Alfie; One In A Million You; Touch Me In The Morning; Welcome To My World; Hit Record Medley; Déjà Vu; Easy Love; No Night So Long; We Never Said Goodbye; I’ll Never Love This Way Again; There’s A Long Road Ahead Of Us; Some Changes Are For Good; Now We’re Starting Over Again; FRIENDS IN LOVE... For You; Friends In Love (w/ Johnny Mathis); Never Gonna Let You Go; Can’t Hide Love; Betcha By Golly Wow; More Than Fascination; Got You Where I Want You (w/ Johnny Mathis); With A Touch; What Is This; A Love So Right; HEARTBREAKER... Heartbreaker; It Makes No Difference; Yours; Take The Short Way Home; Misunderstood; All The Love In The World; I Can’t See Anything (But You); Just One More Night; You Are My Love; Our Day Will Come; Let It Be Me (w/ Barry Gibb); HOW MANY TIMES CAN WE SAY GOODBYE... Got A Date (+ remix); So Amazing; I Do It ‘Cause I Like It; How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye (w/ Luther Vandross); What Can A Miracle Do; Two Ships Passing In The Night; I Can Let Go Now; Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow; FINDER OF LOST LOVES... No One In The World (+ alt. version); Without Your Love; Run To Me (w/ Barry Manilow); Finder Of Lost Loves (w/ Glenn Jones + w/ Luther Vandross); Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; It’s You (w/ Stevie Wonder); It’s Love; Bedroom Eyes (+ alt. version); Weakness (w/ Stevie Wonder); You Made Me Want To Love Again; Broken Bottles; Dangerous; FRIENDS... That’s What Friends Are For (w/ Elton John, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder); Whisper In The Dark; Remember Your Heart; Love At Second Sight; Moments Aren’t Moments; Stronger Than Before; Stay Devoted; No One There (To Sing Me A Love Song); How Long; Extravagant Gestures; RESERVATIONS FOR TWO... Love Power (w/ Jeffrey Osborne); Close Enough; You’re My Hero (w/ Smokey Robinson); In A World Such As This; Another Chance To Love (w/ Howard Hewett); Reservations For Two (w/ Kashif); Cry On Me; Heartbreak Of Love (w/ June Pointer); For Everything You Are; No One In The World; Walk Away; Take Good Care Of You And Me (w/ Jeffrey Osborne); Two Strong Hearts (w/ Johnny Mathis); DIONNE WARWICK SINGS COLE PORTER... Night And Day (+ jazz version); I Love Paris; I Get A Kick Out Of You; What Is This Thing Called Love/So In Love; You’re The Top; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Begin The Beguine; It’s Alright With Me; Anything Goes; You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To; All Of You; I Concentrate On You; Just One Of Those Things; FRIENDS CAN BE LOVERS... Sunny Weather Lover; Age Of Miracles; Where My Lips Have Been; Friends Can Be Lovers; Love Will Find A Way (w/ Whitney Houston); Much Too Much; Til The End Of Time;   The Woman That I Am; Fragile; I Sing At Dawn; A True Love (w/ Sacha Distel); Who’s Counting Heartaches (w/ Johnny Mathis); I Don’t Need Another Love (w/ the Spinners); AQUARELA DO BRASIL... Jobim Medley; Virou Areia; Oh Bahia; Piano Na Manguiera; Captives Of The Heart; Samba Dombrado; Heart Of Brazil; N’kosi Sikelel’i-Afrika/So Bashiya Bahlala Ekhaya; Brazil (Aquarela Do Brasil); Caravan; Flower Of Bahia; 10000 Words; To Say Goodbye (w/ Edu Lobo); Love Me; Lullaby; Bridges (Travessia); Rainy Day Girl (w/ Ivan Lins)

While Dionne may not be the finest singer in the pantheon of the Houston/Warwick clan, she has without doubt become the longest and most enduring hitmaker and, undisputedly, a superstar of the first order.  Some of the finest songwriters have vied with each other to write for her, while the cream of production talents has queued to work with her.  Starting out, who better to have as mentors than Burt Bacharach and Hal David, without whom maybe the whole life story might have been different but that is mere conjecture, an unnecessary avenue to explore when looking at and listening to the wealth of music on display here.  The ten albums in this box set even boast bonus cuts and I will leave you to count exactly how many tracks there are on offer, as we arrive at the career of Dionne Warwick in 1979, after she had spent her formative solo years at Scepter - nine years - before moving on to Warner Bros at six.  Signing to Arista in ’79 was something of a coup for company boss, Clive Davis and this secured mutual acknowledgement between exec and artist and a determination - at least initially - that only the best would suffice.  ‘Dionne’, the label debut, placed the lady in the production hands of Barry Manilow a man who might attract opprobrium from certain quarters - though not this one! - with the result being to achieve the same kind of perfection parallel to the heydays with Bacharach and David, undoubted highlights being the Will Jennings/Richard Kerr power-ballad, ‘I’ll Never Love This Way Again’ and Doug Frank/Doug James‘ ‘After You‘, while Manilow himself co-penned ‘In Your Eyes‘, as near a Bacharach/David song as dammit and the sterling ballad, ‘All The Time’, plus the bonus number ‘Never Gonna Let You Get Away’, performed both solo and as a Warwick/Manilow duet.  For ‘No Night So Long’, Dionne’s sophomore set for Artista, Manilow was replaced by Steve Buckingham, responsible for tracks 1-14 in that album listing above, the further five having been helmed by Michael Masser.  (The original album comprised tracks 1-10, thus there being no less than nine bonus cuts this time round.)  With a greater variety of material than its predecessor, the shining light nevertheless comes from another Jennings/Kerr power ballad, the ‘No Night So Long‘ title track, while running a close second is Larry Weiss and Melissa Manchester’s ‘We Had This Time’.  Elsewhere, personal favourites have (also) always been the tender, melodic ‘When The World Runs Out Of Love’, written by Robbie Patton and Chris Christian and Allee Willis and Bruce Roberts‘ mid-pacer, ‘How You Once Loved Me’.  The bonus tracks kick off with Tom Snow and Kerry Chater’s country ballad ‘Even A Fool Would Let Go’, originally a hit for Gayle McCormick and also recorded earlier by Charlie Rich and Dolly Parton (among others) and later by such as Gloria Gaynor and Joe Cocker.  Other notables include Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser’s ‘This Time Is Ours‘ and Dionne’s version of the Eric Mercury/Roberta Flack number, ‘Only Heaven Can Wait For Love’.

‘Hot! Live And Otherwise‘ retained Steve Buckingham for the hot and live tracks recorded at Harrah’s, a casino/hotel in Reno, Nevada, while the three ‘otherwise‘ - studio tracks - tucked on the end are Michael Masser productions, presumably added initially to fill out what was originally a 2-lp set.  I won’t pretend to have ever been a fan of Dionne Warwick in concert as I personally - and I stress ‘personally‘ - feel she often comes across as a rather lazy performer, throwing her hits away in a perfunctory manner via an ‘oh, let’s get it over with’ medley and not exuding the charisma that comes across through her finer studio performances.  With that in mind, choosing such outside songs as ‘One In A Million You‘ and ‘Touch Me In The Morning‘ - associated with Larry Graham and Diana Ross respectively - showed an amount of courage, the former working best but neither receiving rapturous audience reaction.  Being a sucker for Michel Masser ballads, it’s the ‘otherwise’ that prove the highlights for me, especially ‘Some Changes Are For Good’, penned with Carole Bayer Sager and ‘Now We’re Starting All Over Again’, the co-author this time being Gerry Goffin.  1982, ‘Friends In Love’ and another change of producer, this time to Jay Graydon who also co-wrote three of the album’s tracks, including the title cut, one of two duets with Johnny Mathis, guaranteed to sanitise any recording.  (‘Got You Where I Want You’ is the other Mathis intrusion.)  Despite the inclusion of such songs as ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’, Skip Scarborough’s ‘Can’t Hide Love’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘With A Touch’, overall the album lacks impact, the production work is not to the standard one would expect from Graydon and one is left wondering whether all concerned, including whomever was in charge of Arista’s purse strings, were not fully committed to the project.  By contrast, album number five, ‘Heartbreaker’, from later the same year, was a tour-de-force.  Produced by Barry Gibb, straight off his success in the same rôle for Barbra Streisand, nine (of the original ten) songs were written specifically for Dionne, either by the Bee Gees‘ brothers or by Barry with Albhy Galuten and a group of top-notch musicians were hired for the sessions.  The only minor criticism - probably driven by personal taste - is that backing vocals are often prominently supplied by a multi-tracked Gibb, making Dionne sound like her vocal support was provided by the mice from the Bagpuss Mouseorgan.  The quality of the songs is universally first-class, the title cut surely needing no introduction, ‘Yours‘ being a beautiful ballad and ‘All The Love In The World’ and ‘Just One More Night‘ containing such impactful hook lines that they stay in the memory hours later.  The only outside songs are an ultra-polished version of Ruby & the Romantics‘ hit, ‘Our Day Will Come‘ and, as a bonus, a demo version of ‘Let It Be Me’, a Warwick/Gibb duet, about which I will reserve judgement. 

Maintaining the theme of ‘hot producers’, for ‘How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye’, Luther Vandross was engaged, musicianship became very eighties-contemporary and, as well as a hark back to ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, featuring the Shirelles on backing vocals, the material was mainly downtempo - contrasted by the upbeat opener ‘Got A Date’, complete with harsh rock guitar work.  As unsettling as that track is, one gets onto more familiar Warwick ballad territory with ‘So Amazing’, track two and the choice of album title when issued in the UK.  The highlight is, however, clearly the US title track - a duet with Luther Vandross - while the tender ‘Two Ships Passing In The Night‘ is a rare composition bearing the Dionne Warwick writing credit and there’s a delightful version of Michael McDonald’s ‘I Can’t Let Go Now’.  ‘Finder Of Lost Loves‘ takes its title from the Glenn Jones duet which appeared on the soundtrack to the US-tv’er of the same name.  One of the bonus tracks is an alternative version, Dionne’s singing partner this time being Luther Vandross and the album itself is something of a mish-mash of material and producers, reportedly due to the lady’s involvements in other projects in the interim, e.g. the tracks with Stevie Wonder, ‘It’s You‘ and ‘Weakness‘ having come from Wonder’s work on the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder film, ‘The Woman In Red’.  The musical marriage of Warwick with Barry Manilow had always worked well and it continues to do with the perky, upbeat ‘It’s Love‘ and especially the Steve Goldman ballad, ‘Love Doesn’t Love Here Anymore’ - by far the set’s high spot...  even if the duet ‘Run To Me‘  is pure corn.  The most notable thing about ‘Friends‘ is its opening cut, ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager and featuring, alongside Dionne, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight.  Ultimately becoming a charity song for AIDS research, success was very much a universal reward.  With Bruce Roberts, Bacharach and Bayer Sager also penned the midtempo ‘Stronger Than Before’ and Wonder delivered ‘Moments Aren’t Moments’, another ‘Te Woman In Red‘ track boasting a somewhat unique musical arrangement.  Deserving special mention should also be the David Foster produced and co-written (with Paul Gordon) ballad, ‘Love At Second Sight’. 

I remember at the time of 1987’s ‘Reservations For Two‘ thinking that the Dionne Warwick/Arista axis was definitely coming off the wagon.  With the exception of ‘Heartbreaker’, only the first two albums had been totally fulfilling and, whilst there had been undoubted highlights, too much came across as nothing special.  For a lesser artist, that may well have been sufficient but this was a superstar after all.  Doubtless in an effort for change, someone decided it would be a good idea to include even more duets than usual for a Dionne Warwick album.  (Did no one realise folks wanted to buy/hear Dionne, not someone sharing the limelight, no matter how big the name...  e.g. Smokey Robinson?)  That said, the album had its share of good songs and performances but suffered most from late eighties production values.  It was certainly time for something different and ‘Dionne Warwick Sings Cole Porter‘ was definitely that something.  Seemingly, it was Clive Davis‘ idea to ditch contemporary songs and musical backgrounds for sheer class, engaging notable producer, Arif Martin and opting for lush string arrangements - which apparently Davis ordered be re-done as the first attempt delivered was, he considered, too jazzy and insufficiently appealing across-the-board.  Only the ‘jazz version‘ of ‘Night And Day‘ survives from attempt number one to enable us to judge but this album is (IMHO) absolutely terrific, everything that had been missing for a number of years and proof of what might - no, should - have been.  After such an artistic triumph, to follow up with ‘Friends Can Be Lovers‘ is almost sacrilege.  Computerised backings and songs which could have been offered to anybody, even Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘Sunny Weather Lover‘ and Diane Warren’s ‘Much Too Much‘ being far from their best works, while ‘Til The End Of Time’, produced and co-penned by Barry Eastmond, in the absolute nadir.  Ironically, the set’s only (and by far) redeeming factor is the original closer, ‘I Sing At Dawn’, lyrics adapted by Dionne from a Japanese song by Taku Izuma and Tokiko Iwatani and produced by Masaki Kubo. 

And finally - phew!...  ‘Aquarela Do Brasil’.  Dionne had made her second home in Brazil since 1992 and had voiced her wish to record a tribute to the country, meeting no resistance from Clive Davis - even though the project was to be her Arista swansong.  With production by Teo Lima, the lead vocals and rhythm tracks were recorded at studios in Rio De Janeiro, while strings (yes!), horns and background vocals were added in Los Angeles.  The [Antonio Carlos] Jobim Medley which opens the set blends ‘Variation’, ‘How Insensitive’, ‘Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars‘ and ‘Waters Of March’.  The original twelve tracks have been augmented here by five bonus cuts and it is clear throughout that Dionne is happy to embrace the music of her new second homeland, indeed it seems to have inspired a new energy in her voice as she sways her way through the rhythms, intertwining local compositions with such as the Duke Ellington-adapted ‘Caravan‘ - replete with frantic percussion support - a Burt Bacharach/John Bettis number, ‘Captives Of The Heart’ and the Brenda Russell/Joe Turano composition, ‘10,000 Words’.  Of the bonus tracks, they include two beautiful duets with their (co-) composers: ‘To Say Goodbye’, with bossa nova singer, Edu Lobo and ‘Rainy Day Girl’ with Ivan Lins, plus Jon Lucien’s song ‘Love Me’.  Fifteen years and twelve albums, going out as we came in with full-blown Dionne Warwick magic, sadly not always sustained throughout.

US R&B Chart statistics  (peak positions: BB = ‘Billboard’, CB = ‘Cashbox’)...

After You  (Arista 45, 0498)  -  BB 33, CB 47

Another Chance To Love  (Arista 45, 9656, w/ Howard Hewett)  -  BB 42

Déjà Vu  (Arista 45, 0459)  -  BB 25, CB 24

Dionne  (Arista LP, 4230)  -  BB 10

Finder Of Lost Loves  (Arista LP, 8262)  -  BB 50

Finder Of Lost Loves  (Arista 45, 9281, w/ Glenn Jones)  -  BB 47

Friends  (Arista LP, 8398)  -  BB 8

Friends Can Be Lovers  (Arista LP, 18682)  -  BB 84

Friends In Love  (Arista LP, 9585)  -  BB 33

Friends In Love  (Arista 45, 0673, w/ Johnny Mathis)  -  BB 22, CB 26

Got A Date  (Arista 45, 9146)  -  BB 45, CB 60

Heartbreaker  (Arista LP, 9609)  -  BB 13

Heartbreaker  (Arista 45, 1015)  -  BB 14, CB 25

Hot! Live & Otherwise  (Arista LP, 8605)  -  BB 35

How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye  (Arista LP, 8104)  -  BB 19

How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye  (Arista 45, 9073, w/ Luther Vandoss)  -  BB 7, CB 12

I Don’t Need Another Love  (Arista 45, 9940, w/ the Spinners)  -  BB 84

I’ll Never Love This Way Again  (Arista 45, 0419)  -  BB 18, CB 15

Love Power  (Arista 45, 9567, w/ Jeffrey Osborne)  -  BB 5

No Night So Long  (Arista LP, 9526)  -  BB 22

No Night So Long  (Arista 45, 0527)  -  BB 19, CB 23

Reservations For Two  (Arista LP, 8446)  -  BB 32

Reservations For Two  (Arista 45, 9638, w/ Kashif)  -  BB 20 

Some Changes Are For Good  (Arista 45, 0602)  -  BB 43, CB 42

Take Good Care Of You And Me  (Arista 45, 9901, w/ Jeffrey Osborne)  -  BB 46

Take The Short Way Home  (Arista 45, 1040)  -  BB 43, CB 40

That’s What Friends Are For  (Arista 45, 9422, w/ Elton John, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder)  -  BB 1

We Never Said Goodbye  (Arista 45, 0572)  -  BB 41, CB 61

Where My Lips Have Been  (Arista 45, 12558)  -  BB 95

Whisper In The Dark  (Arista 45, 9460)  -  BB 49  /                                                                                                             

review posted 22/2/20