required listening

CD Review

POINTER SISTERS  -  The Pointer Sisters + That’s A Plenty

Soul Music (UK) SMCR 5171 D (2cd)

THE POINTER SISTERS... Yes We Can Can (+ single version); Cloudburst; Jada; River Boulevard; Old Songs; That’s How I Feel; Sugar; Pains And Tears; Naked Foot; Wang Dang Doodle (+ single version); THAT’S A PLENTY... Bangin’ On The Pipes–Steam Heat (+ Steam Heat single version); Salt Peanuts; Grinning In Your Face; Shaky Flat Blues; That’s A Plenty–Surfeit USA; Little Pony; Fairytale (+ single version); Black Coffee; Love In Them There Hills (+ single version)

Like so many of their peers, the Pointer Sisters grew up singing in the church but their jazzy - not to mention sassy - approach was deemed a little too ‘strong’ for some of the congregation and so it was inevitable a transition to secular music would be the end result, although nothing happened overnight.  Firstly, third and fourth sisters, Bonnie and Ruth formed ‘Pointers A Pair’ and, as well as working local venues they joined the North California State Youth Choir, whose director was Edwin Hawkins.  Stimulated by watching them live, oldest sister, Anita soon made up a trio and, although initially basing themselves in Houston, TX, when things failed to take off they quickly returned to their native San Francisco where they backed such blues artists as Elvin Bishop and Taj Mahal and turned in their own catholic blend of of jazz, blues and soul, plus even country and rock.  A short-term signing with Atlantic in 1973 produced a couple of soul-orientated 45s, produced in Jackson, MS, by Wardell Quezergque but it was a prompt from their friend, the larger-than-life Sylvester, that saw both a move to Blue Thumb Records - his label home at the time - a hook up with producer, David Rubinson and the joining of second sister, Ruth, to make the group into a foursome.   Attracted by their look, instigated by their penchant for buying forties clothes from local thrift shops, Rubinson felt their music should also reflect a less conventional musical base, away from the norms expected of black artists at the time and more representative of their live repertoire, thus that long preamble brings us to the girls’ first and second (of four) Blue Thumb albums, brought together on this 2cd set.  Their eponymous debut opens with Allen Toussaint’s socially-aware ‘Yes We Can’, the subtly insistent piece which put their name on the charts, travelling to an r&b peak of #13 ‘Cashbox’, #12 ‘Billboard’ and a pop crossover of #11.  Versatility is demonstrated right away with track two, ‘Cloudburst’, the ultra-jazzy item popularised initially by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - with some deft piano playing here by Tom Salisbury - and then moving on to a home-penned swinger inspired by Anita’s daughter, Jada.  Elsewhere, a rockier feel is generated by ‘River Boulevard’ and ‘Old Songs’ can only be described as ‘vaudeville camp’.  Despite the overall emphasis being of a jazzy bent, that does not stop the set being tailed by a 7:27 romp through Willie Dixon’s ‘Wang Dang Doodle’.  Without wishing to overshadow any of the other eight tracks on ‘That’s A Plenty’, perhaps the most noteworthy item on the sophomore set was/is ‘Fairytale’, a pure country item penned by Bonnie and Anita.  Originally issued as the 45 flip to the Pointers’ treatment of the Vibrations’ hit, ‘Love In Them There Hills’ - the album version of which is given a spirited 8:32 workout - ‘Fairytale’ was flipped by deejays, ultimately peaking at #13 on both the ‘Billboard’ pop and adult contemporary charts but, more notably at #37 on the country charts over a stay of many weeks, winning a Grammy Award for the Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and a Grammy Nomination for Bonnie and Annie as songwriters of the Best Country Song.  As for the rest, there’s a jazzy medley in the opener, ‘Bangin’ On The Pipes’, incorporating ‘Steam Heat’ (from the musical, ‘The Pyjama Game’), some razzamatazz in the medley of the ‘That’s A Plenty’ title number and ‘Surfeit USA,’, a smouldering solo ballad performance by Bonnie on Sonny Burke and Francis Webster’s ‘Black Coffee’, first cut as a chart hit by Sarah Vaughan in 1949, funky/swampy blues by way of ‘Grinning In Your Face’ and another dip into the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross songbook with ‘Little Pony’.  A move to Planet, under the wing of Richard Perry, in the latter part of the decade shifted the Pointer Sisters into the mainstream but this is, the Atlantic 45s aside, pretty much where the journey started.

review posted 9/6/18 /