Friday, 11 December 2009

Gene Van Buren - What's Your Pleasure - 1982 / 2009 - Funkytown Grooves

This is a GEM of an album, and one that was very rare indeed on wax. A HUUUUUGE thank you to all the chaps at Funky Town Grooves as well as dear old Harry Weinger at Universal US, in collaborating to get this album a legitimate release on CD – and from the original Motown master tapes too! I have never been interested in remastering from vinyl – I can tell straight away and to say I'm put off is a bit of an understatement. “What's Your Pleasure” is a quality early 80s release that I have cherished for a very long time. I never forget Richard Searling playing “When Is My Turn” on his Red Rose radio show, “Soul Sauce”, back in the 80s, and knew there and then I had to own this LP. The thing was, it appeared not to be an easy set to get hold of then, but not now thanks to Funky Town Grooves!! The album is classy and appeals to lovers of connoisseur soul, and the better-styled early 80s boogie tunes. Gene Van Buren is better known as a backing singer, and has worked with many of the greats. He can be heard backing up alongside Luther Vandross on David Lasley's superb 1989 set “Soldiers On The Moon”, and even alongside David himself on backing chores for guitarist Jimmy Buffet. Now, Gene appears to have disappeared completely- and this is a crying shame for soul music. The 1982 album, all 9 tracks, were overseen by Berry Gordy himself, and featured a star-spangled line-up of musicians. Odd, then, that this remains an album shrouded in mystery. Benjamin Wright was an arranger, the legendary James Jamerson appeared on bass, and Michael White and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler are on drums. As for Gene himself – his vocals are absolutely breathtaking. Such clarity of voice and such power! He has been likened by some to Glenn Jones, but I would rather liken him to Rockie Robbins.

Although the main stay of this work is not ground breaking or novel, certain tracks certainly stand the test of time, and it is to those I turn my attention. “When Is My Turn” is the cream of the crop; lovers of Chapter 8 / Michael J Powell should find this as essential a song as “How Is It Possible” or “Don't Stop Lovin' Me”. The strings are gorgeous and the backing vocalists of Lynn Davis and Portia Griffin are sublime. “You've Got Me Where I Want You”has a great Ronnie McNeir summary flourish within its keyboards, and Gene's vocals are very Rockie Robbis-like here. This is a gently swaying song, juxtaposed to the heavier synth-funk on here such as “Action”. Incidentally, the horn arrangement comes from another great Motown act of the early 80s – Ozone.

The sort of classy 80s dance spirit captured by modern class acts such as Confection is encapsulated in the title track, “What's Your Pleasure”. The Paul Lawrence guitar, horns and freaky keys are all excellent. The groovy “I Give Good Love” would sound great on radio today – 26 years after release! If you are into tracks such as “High Hopes” from the S.O.S. Band, or “Act Like You Know” from fat Larry's Band then this will also do the business for you. The gorgeous “I Love You More (Than I Hate What You Do)”is again full of strings, and that is what helps give it such a rich quality! I wonder what this girl does though to warrant such a song? Is she a parking meter attendant?! Anyway, “What's Your Pleasure” stands as a lost album of quality songs from 1982, and its a pity that his follow-up album never took off in 1984, even though the pairing of this talent with Michael Stokes would, I am sure, have been AWESOME. We do get a taste of this, however, with the funky “You Excite Me” which is very 1984 and not unlike the material we could have expected to hear on the Dazz Band's “Jukebox” album that same year. This album is a real gem, and ta dream come true for me to own this on a proper, truly mastered CD release. ESSENTIAL.

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe