This super-talented husband-and-wife songwriting and production duo hit a purple patch in the late ’70s, not only with their own music for Warner Bros but also with the material that they wrote for other artists (including Chaka Khan, The Brothers Johnson, and Phyllis Hyman). They are mostly remembered in the UK for their 1984 matrimonial anthem, ‘Solid,’ on Capitol but before that was released, their 1978 LP, ‘Is It Good To Ya,’ was their biggest selling record. It’s now reissued with bonus cuts alongside a similarly expanded version of its follow-up, 1979’s ‘Stay Free.’
The keystone of ‘Is It Good To Ya’ – which topped the US R&B albums chart back in 1978 and was the duo’s second Gold-certified album – is undoubtedly the set’s lead off track and chief hit single, ‘It Seems To Hang On,’ a brilliant, lush, groove ballad whose hypnotic chord sequence established a stylistic template for soul music that was deeply influential in the 1980s (a whole raft of soul records used the same chord sequence during that decade). Utilising the talents of top session players like guitarist Eric Gale, bassist Franco Centeno, keyboardist Ray Chew, drummer Steve Jordan, and percussionist Ralph MacDonald – not forgetting superb strings and horns charts by ex-Motown arranger, Paul Riser – Ashford & Simpson created a sumptuous soul masterpiece spiced up with a little bit of piquant funk and disco seasoning. Other highlights on this must-have reissue include the dreamy, mirrorball-inflected ‘Flashback,’ and the album’s title song, an impassioned, sensuous ballad. Appended to this reissue are some worthwhile bonus cuts – three12-inch mixes of ‘It Seems To Hang On’ (including a souped-up Mike Maurro remix), a disco mix of ‘Flashback,’ and an alternative mix of ‘The Debt Is Settled.’
1979’s ‘Stay Free’ was A&S’s seventh long player for Warner’s and reunited the same pool of musicians that had appeared on the duo’s previous album. Also, significantly, it found them digging deeper into a funky disco groove, especially on the effervescent ‘Dance Forever’ and also via the set’s lead single, the driving ‘Found A Cure,’ which peaked at #2 in the US R&B charts. Even better is the album’s beautifully orchestrated and infectious title cut – a close cousin to ‘Clouds,’ which A&S wrote for Chaka Khan in 1980 – though, surprisingly, it was never issued as a single. By contrast, ‘Nobody Knows’ – a Top 20 US R&B hit – rides on a syncopated shuffle beat peppered with syn drums ‘pops’ and ‘Crazy’ embodies A&S’s strong musical virtues in a ballad format. Of the four bonus cuts, two are uninteresting single edits but there’s a terrific Mike Maurro 12-inch retooling of ‘Stay Free’ and also a thumping 10-minute Tom Moulton mix of ‘Found A Cure,’ rounding off what is the second of two splendid remastered Ashford & Simpson reissues by the ever-reliable bbr label.