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This is one of the best reissues yet from Northampton’s Funky Town Grooves label. Philly songbird, Janice McClain – who is not, as some internet biographies state, the daughter of Alton ‘It Must Be Love’ McClain who led the ’70s group Destiny – rose to fame with the disco classic, ‘Smack Dab In The Middle,’ released in 1979 on the Warner-distributed RFC label. McLain was only a teenager at the time and subsequent 45 releases in the early-’80s for the indie label, Mon-Tab (‘Giving My Love’ and Burnin’ Up’), failed to make any chart impact. Enter MCA Records in 1986, though, who signed up the young singer on the advice of Patti LaBelle, who’d caught McClain’s live act one night at a club in Atlantic City. Under executive producer Jheryl Busby’s stewardship, McClain went in the studio with Nick Martinelli – then one of the hottest producers in R&B – along with Richard Rudolph, Michael Sembello, Paul Gurvitz, Ron Kersey and Nick Johnson to cut her self-titled debut platter. Big things were predicted for the big-voiced McClain but the set’s first single, the Martinelli-helmed mid-tempo groover, ‘Passion & Pain,’ failed to ignite the US charts, despite boasting an infectious hook line. Now, 24 years on, Funky Town Grooves’ remastered reissue of what turned out to be McClain’s solitary long player offers a chance for those who missed the album the first time around to make its acquaintance. It’s a solid offering of ’80s synthesised grooves lit up by McLain’s strikingly dramatic, soulful vocals (she sounds like a young Patti LaBelle). Though some of the set’s ’80s production techniques might grate on some listeners – like raspy synths and clattering drum machines – a lot of the album still stands up to contemporary scrutiny. ‘Hideaway’ is a great cut as is ‘When Love Calls’ and, of course, the sultry and insistent ‘Passion & Pain.’ Another strong dance track is the Michael Sembello/Richard Rudolph-helmed ‘The Rhythm Of Our Love,’ while on the poignant piano-led ballad ‘Last Goodbye,’ McClain conveys the emotional drama of the lyric with a sensitivity that belied her relative youth back in 1986. Two bonus cuts are appended to the original album – an uptempo non-LP cut, ‘We’re Not Too Young,’ and the dub version of ‘Passion & Pain.’ In the set’s liner notes, McCLain – who was interviewed by David Nathan – says that disagreements between her record company and management resulted in her leaving MCA. Sadly, McCLain disappeared into obscurity after that but now looks set for a comeback with Philly legend Bobby Eli at the helm. Until that happens, this timely reissue will do nicely.
(CW) 4/5