Friday, 28 May 2010

Lou Rawls - Now Is The Time / Close Company - 1982 / 1984 - Expansion

When I saw Expansion had pencilled this two-fer for release I immediately emailed label boss, Ralph Tee and expressed my genuine delight and thanks. These are my all-time favourite albums of Lou Rawls, and never did I imagine seeing their release on CD, especially outside of Japan. These albums may not be on the Philadelphia International label but the whole writing / production team for both sets are classic Philly through and through. Epic were soon to realise the continuing might of Lou Rawls with Dexter Wansel, Mtume and Thom Bell supporting him. Yet, these albums came and went without fanfare or trace. Lou himself called his three 1980s Epic releases his 'hidden gems' and I was well acquainted with "Close Company" when it was released late in 1984 it wasn't until 1998 that I stumbled across the MONSTER "Now Is The Time" album...and what an essential set it is.

"Now Is The Time" is Philly magic at it's best. Every track a winner, no fills and no cop-outs. Twenty-eight years on this remains a solid, staple set of real soul tunes and I can commend this as much as I can any brand new release, if not more. Fans of Thom Bell's 80s works will simply bask in tracks such as the dreamy and laid-back "(Will You) Kiss Me One More Time", string-laden classics "Ain't That Love Baby" and "Watch Your Back" (songs co-penned with Deniece Williams, which is a perfect joiner for anything on her then-recent sets "My Melody" and "Niecy"). The Teddy Pendergrass-ish "This Love", written by Commodores main man Walter Orange closes the set and the Thom Bell efforts and so leaves us with the monumental productions from the equally legendary James Mtume who was doing great things at Epic at that time. Classy, stylish and in the Philly mood, Mtume crafted "Let Me Show You How" with expert flair...a ballad of distinction and one that would have suited any of the class acts of the day. "While The Rain Comes Down" equals this and empowers Lou's rich vocals, and we are left with the title track which is a real modern good Expansion included it on their essential Mtume and Lucas collection some years ago.

Not as solid a set, but containing some real jaw-droppers, 1984's "Close Company" continues this two-fer. Philly Stalwarts Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs throw in a flavour of golden Philly sounds, and the superb title track - a David Porter and Donald O'Connor song (he of Bearsville Records' "Come Alive" fame) - simply eases you along. The rich vocal is ably supported by a gentle, unassuming tune and supporting vocals from those who include Wanda Vaughan and Josie James. What I love about Lou Rawls' voice is the clarity and depth...his was a truly masterful voice and I am deeply saddened that it has been silenced. I feel this sadness so much when I hear what is my all-time favourite song...his reading of Michael Jackson's "Lady In My Life"...already a great song, Lou Rawls along with Dexter Wansel, Don Renaldo and The Jones Girls make this a piece of intense Philly magic...never has Lou sounded so at home on a track, and the vibe is simply perfect; the Jones Girls, not unlike the Sweethearts, perfection itself, effortless and sexy. So...I am thrilled beyond measure to own this track, and these two albums, on crystal clear CD. Expansion and other reissues labels deserve credit and thanks for keeping gems like this alive. ESSENTIAL.
Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe