required listening

CD Review


The Devil In Me + Ready To Roll + Ride To The Rainbow + Reachin’ All Around

Soul Music (UK) SMCR 5176 D (2cd)

THE DEVIL IN ME... I’m Here Again; It’s Just Me Feeling Good; I Can’t Go On Living Without Your Love; Triflin’; Give Me Something To Believe In; Memories; I’ve Got The Devil In Me; Baby I Love You Too Much; Your Eyes; If You Won’t Let Me Walk On The Water; READY TO ROLL... Love Is Comin’ On; I Wanna Start My Life All Over Again; Midnight Mona; Pardon Me; Everybody’s Got A Story; Strange; Am I Expecting Too Much; Can’t We Try; RIDE TO THE RAINBOW... Saturday Night Sunday Morning; I Wanna Be Back In Love Again; Love Machine; Imaginary Paradise; Just A Little Piece Of You; Ride To The Rainbow; Paying For It With My Heart; Give It To Me; REACHIN’ ALL AROUND... You Never Were My Friend; Reachin’ All Around My Love; I Can’t Go Home Again; Lies; Don’t Wonder Why; Never Took No For An Answer; Rhythm Of Love; (I’ve Give You) The Best Years Of My Life; Little Bit Of Heaven And A Little Bit Of Hell; Stormy Weather–I Can’t Stand The Rain (medley); Love Masterpiece

Thelma Houston’s career at Motown, which began in 1972 and lasted almost to the end of the decade, saw her release six albums, including two shared sets with Jerry Butler, across the MoWest, Motown and Tamla labels, plus a reissue of her classic 1969 Dunhill album, ‘Sunshower’ via the Motown imprint and a post-Motown contract set, ‘Reachin’ All Around’ in 1981.  With ‘Sunshower’, her first two albums and the Jerry Butler duets having been already scooped up for Soul Music reissue, the remaining four solo sets are now brought together on this 2-cd package, also courtesy of Soul Music and Cherry Red.  ‘The Devil In Me‘ begins with a distinct effort to replicate the sound and success of her major-scoring version of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’.  Speaking with ‘In The Basement‘ in 2002, Thelma stated a dislike for it.  “I thought it was too obvious,” she said.  Nevertheless, it recorded a healthy #21 on the ‘Billboard’ r&b chart and an even healthier #9 with ‘Cashbox’.  Penned by Mike & Brenda Sutton (with Kathy Wakefield), the Suttons also wrote the album’s second track, ‘It’s Just Me Feeling Good’, a tuneful, rippling dancer.  Staying with the dancers, the Eddie & Brian Holland plus Richard Davis composition, ‘I Can’t Go On Living Without Your Love’ is a superbly constructed and arranged item, produced by Brian Holland himself.  Changing the mood, the film theme style of ‘Memories’ is a perfect vehicle for Thelma’s strong vocals - a Michael Rubini/Don Dunn/Ron Siller opus - and Michael Masser and Pam Sawyer’s choir-supported ballad builder, ‘Your Eyes’ made a wondrous closer to the original set.  This time around, we get the non-album b-side, ‘If You Won’t Let Me Walk On The Water’ as a bonus track and it’s another quality ballad, penned by Ron Miller and Terry Etlinger.  Miller also wrote - this time with Ken Hirsch - ‘Can’t We Try‘, another song like ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way‘ also vocalised by Teddy Pendergrass and the cream cut on the ‘Ready To Roll‘ album.  Thelma takes the tempo up a few notches from Teddy but it’s such a delightful song both melodically and lyrically that it’s still a beaut.  Although Thelma’s stay at Motown was comparatively productive for the times, she said (in her ITB interview) that she often felt ill-served and maybe that could apply to much of the ‘Ready To Roll‘ set, the bulk of the songs and arrangements being somewhat routine, only the ballads, ‘I Wanna Start My Life All Over Again‘ and the tougher-styled ‘Am I Expecting Too Much‘ matching ‘Can’t We Try‘ as above par material.

‘Ride To The Rainbow‘ ensured Thelma wouldn’t be able to shake off the ‘disco diva‘ tag but at least it caught fire from the opener with ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’, a Norma Helms/Mitchell Bottler number which carried a nice melody as well as feet-fodder and delighted punters to a level of #19 r&b ‘Billboard‘ and #22 ‘Cashbox’.  What’s more, there was no sitting out for tracks two and three either, ‘I Wanna Be Back In Love Again‘ and Thelma’s visit to the Miracles‘ ‘Love Machine’.  The McCrary’s ‘Imaginary Paradise‘ made for a funky track four so (a slight) relaxation has to wait until around the set’s halfway mark with the Stevie Wonder/Syreeta Wright-penned midpacer, ‘Just A Little Piece Of You’.  Thus it is left to Guy Finley and Michael Rubini to provide the set’s one (near-) ballad, ‘Paying For It With My Heart’.  With Thelma having left Motown at the end of the seventies to try her luck at RCA, in 1981 Motown delved into its vaults for the ten tracks that comprise the ‘Reachin‘ All Around‘ album, including the firey title track and the Charles Kipps melodic dancer, ‘You Never Were My Friend’, the opening item.  Certainly the tracks all merited the light of day and the art department provided a tasty cover, leading to the opinion this was not just a hastily cobbled-together release for release sake.  Leonard Caston’s lovely song, ‘Don’t Wonder Why‘ gets a particularly spirited yet tender treatment from the Lady and there’s an interesting medley of ‘Stormy Weather‘ and ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’.  For those who prefer ballads to beat, both ‘I Can’t Go Home Again‘ and ‘(I’ve Given You) The Best Years Of My Life‘ will not disappoint, while ‘Rhythm Of Love‘ is a floaty, mid-tempo item - and a Kathy Wakefield/Ken Hirsch composition - and ‘Little Bit Of Heaven And A Little Bit Of Hell‘ is a country-meets-honky-tonk piece, courtesy of the pens of Michael Masser and Dierdrie Meehan.  There’s a bonus track on this cd too, viz ‘Love Masterpiece’, taken from the soundtrack of the movie, ‘Thank God It’s Friday‘ - a roaring dancer with a hook line based on a classical work the name of which escapes me right this moment (and which I know will drive me mad for the rest of the day!).

review posted 16/10/18 /