One of music’s longest standing mysteries is why the great CISSY HOUSTON never became a super star. Sure, everyone’s heard of her… “the mother of Whitney… and part of the Warwick singing clan”, though, is about as far as most people get. Proper soul fans know different. They know that Cissy (born Emily Drinkard in Newark new Jersey in 1933) is one of soul’s greatest treasures and could always sing the pants of her more famous daughter. They’ll tell you all about her time in the Drinkard Singers, her work as New York’s top session singer, her stellar role in the Sweet Inspirations and her wonderful solo albums – including a brace she made for Private Stock Records in the late 70s… and guess what… both those albums have just won reissue on the Cherry Red imprint, Cherry Pop…. an odd label…. ‘cos the albums aren’t poppy at all!
First up is her 1997 eponymous album that was produced by Michael Zager. The 9 tracker is a mix of originals and gospel-infused covers of pop standards like the Hollies’ ‘He Ain’ Heavy, He’s My Brother’ and Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. There’s also a great version of ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ and a take on the Annie song ‘Tomorrow’ – which Cissy quite transforms. But as a measure of the LP’s beauty go to the stunningly soulful cut ‘Love Is Holding On’.
For unexplained reasons ‘Cissy Houston’ bombed (too darn soulful, maybe?) so for her second Private Stock outing, ‘Think It Over’, Zager decided to take her down the disco road and the results were, generally, less than satisfactory with Cissy sounding decidedly uncomfortable on glitter ball swingers like the LP’s title cut… tough ironically that song did give the lady a hit! Thankfully the album did yield a trio of stunning ballads on which Cissy turns in the expected peerless performances. Try the searing ‘After You’ to hear what I mean.
Private Stock folded at the end of 1978 and Cissy Houston moved on to Columbia but major success still eluded her… like we said a mystery. Still, thanks to Cherry Pop we can now re-enjoy part of her story and muse on that very mystery.