JERRY BUTLER: Love’s On The Menu/Suite For The Single Girl (Soulmusic Records)

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When it comes to classy soul, there’s no one classier than Jerry Butler. The genial Chicagoan enjoyed his first taste of success fronting the Impressions on their seminal 1958 hit ‘For Your Precious Love’. When a solo career beckoned, Jerry raked up countless hits, first on Vee Jay and then on Mercury – where the two albums he made with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff remain smooth soul classics. When his contract with Mercury expired in 1975, the “Ice Man” (a nickname he’d earned via the cool music he’d cut with the Philly duo) was lured to Motown by an old Vee Jay chum, Ewart Abner, who was by then President of the Gordy corporation. Butler agreed a four album deal with Motown and the first of those two LPs are paired here on this new Soulmusic Records release.

‘Love’s On The Menu’ was released in 1976 and is something of a musical hotch potch. Recorded in both Chicago and Detroit, it’s an odd collection of new tunes and covers of pop songs including an ultra lugubrious look at Olivia Newton John’s ‘I Honestly Love You’ and a disco-flavoured rendition of the Stevie Wonder-penned Syreeta song, ‘I’m Going Left’. Much, much better are the Motown original ‘I Don’t Want To Be Reminded’, the wonderful title cut and a version of the Commodores’ ‘This Is Your Life’.

Modest sales (by Butler’s standards) for the album and the departure from Motown of Abner forced Jerry into a rethink for the follow-up. He decided on a then fashionable concept album – with all the songs coming from writers pacted to his Chicago writers workshop. The team were charged with coming up with a suite of songs about the dreams and aspirations of a single girl. By this time though his workshop’s best writers (Terry Callier, Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey) had moved on and the songs that people like Homer Talbert and Paul Wilson came up with though adequate lacked real sparkle and focus. Undoubted highlight is the ballad ‘Only Pretty Girls’ on which Butler proves that on a certain kind of sad song he had no peers… and that’s the attraction of this “twofer”; even on material that’s not maybe top quality, his vocal approach makes it all worthwhile.

Jerry Butler went on to deliver two more albums for Motown (one a duet with Thelma Houston) before teaming up with old collaborators Gamble and Huff at Philly International. But the days of the big hits had gone and the “Ice Man” left to enjoy new success as a business man (he ran a major drinks company) and as an elected Commissioner/Councillor for Chicago’s Cook County as well as recording sporadically. A long, varied and distinguished career then; catch up with part of the Motown part here.

(BB) 3/5