Richard ‘Popcorn’ Wylie: ‘Extrasensory Perception’ (Label: Dusty Groove America)

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Richard 'Popcorn' Wylie: 'Extrasensory Perception'

Simply put, this album should have been massive when it was originally released by ABC Records in 1974. Sadly, though, the record bombed spectacularly and ex-Mohawks front man and erstwhile Funk Brother Wylie never got to make another long player. The album’s abject commercial failure was inexplicable given the sheer quality of the performances, songs and arrangements on offer – indeed, Motown tunesmith extraordinaire, Lamont Dozier (who was also signed to ABC at the time), was a co-writer on all the set’s eight tracks and the huge cast of contributing musicians included luminaries like guitarists Wah-Wah Watson, Dennis Coffey and Ray Parker Jr, horn players Chuck Findley and Ernie Watts, Motown bassist James Jamerson and drummer James Gadson. Factor in upper-echelon production from McKinley Jackson combined with opulent strings and horn arrangements by Motown maestro Paul Riser and Gene Page (whose lush orchestral charts shaped Barry White’s symphonic soul sound) and ‘Extrasensory Perception’s’ indifferent public reception and rapid descent into cut-out bin obscurity is even harder to fathom. 35 years on from its release, ‘Extrasensory Perception’ turns out to be a lost gem rediscovered. ‘Singing About You & Me,’ is a strong and vibrant opener with plenty of dance floor appeal but it’s eclipsed by the moodier ‘Georgia’s After Hours,’ which sounds like a funky outtake from a blaxploitation movie score. ‘How Did I Lose You’ is an instrumental that doffs its cap to Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, thanks to some fantastic orchestration from Gene Page, whose work is underpinned by an awesome groove from the rhythm section players. Next up is ‘Lost Time,’ which establishes an altogether different mood and possesses an infectious, anthemic chorus that’s reminiscent of the songs that Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for The Supremes. The title cut, ‘ESP,’ is even better with a belter of a chorus and a superb vocal performance from Wylie. ‘I Can Take The World On With You’ maintains the high quality, sounding like an amazing synthesis of the Motown sound and Barry White’s symphonic sonics. Much funkier is the strutting, blues-infused ‘Both Ends Against The Middle’ – not the same song that Jackie Moore recorded for Atlantic in 1973 – which showcases the churchier, more declamatory side of Wylie’s voice. The closing track is the lush, gospel-inflected ballad, ‘Trust In Me,’ where, despite dense instrumentation, and an army of backing singers, Wylie’s expressive, deeply soulful, voice has a commanding presence. Listening to this fantastic reissue, it’s hard to believe that ‘Extrasensory Perception’ was a flop back in 1974. Whether the blame for that lies at the door of ABC Records or a cloth-eared public hardly matters now – what is important is that this incredible album is available to buy again. It stands as an enduring monument to the immense talent of the late great Richard ‘Popcorn’ Wylie.
(CW) 4/5