MICKEY STEVENSON: Here I Am (Label: Fantastic Voyage)

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William “Mickey” Stevenson is best known to the soul fraternity as a seminal figure in the early days of Motown. As a songwriter and producer he worked with all Detroit’s big names and takes credit for any number of Motown anthems. In 1967 he and his wife – the lovely Kim Weston – quit the Gordy fold for what they thought would be greener pastures at MGM. Then in 1971 Stevenson decided to re-establish himself as a performer (remember, he’d originally pacted to Motown as a singer) and he came to the notice of UK music biz entrepreneur Jeffery Kruger who signed him to his Ember label. He knew it was very much the vogue at the time for producers to take to the mike themselves and Kruger – sensing success – had Mickey record an album and a couple of singles. Sadly, the work was commercially unsuccessful and listening now to this – the music’s first ever CD release – it’s easy to hear why. Where, say contemporary producer-turned-artist Isaac Hayes had a very clear idea of what he wanted to be, Stevenson seemed to lack direction. On his Ember album he veers from soul balladeer to country crooner with a generous helping of pop in between. That’s not to say this is a bad album – it’s not… it’s just that it’s hard to pin down. Best of the cuts are the quartet of Leon Ware-penned tunes of which ‘What Could Be Better’ and ‘Knock On Any Door’ are superb while the version of ‘Here I Am’ (a Stevenson-written song, originally recorded by the Righteous Brothers) has all that great New York uptown feel of the Drifters’ classics. Elsewhere there’s a hint of country to ‘Forty Days And Night’, a Tex-Mex flavour to ‘Lonnie’s Face’ while the version of the Beatles’ ‘Rocky Racoon’ is pure pop. Stevenson has a great smooth soul voice – a cross between O. C. Smith, Terry Callier and Al Wilson – and it’s that voice that rescues some of the weaker material. The music is very much of its time, but collectors – forced to buy the original vinyl at inflated prices – will be delighted that, eventually, Stevenson’s Ember outings have found their way onto CD.
(BB) 3/5