Though Johnnie Taylor, “the philosopher of soul”, was an archetypal, gospel-reared, southern soul man his biggest hit was 1976’s ‘Disco Lady’. Sure, that iconic glitter ball artefact was a million times more soulful than most contemporary disco tunes, but, equally, it was a long way away from Johnnie’s Crawfordsville roots and the music he cut with the Soul Stirrers, for Stax and indeed, later at Malaco. Whatever, ‘Disco Lady’ bought the big bucks and little wonder that Johnnie and the label, Columbia, strove to duplicate the magic – sadly they didn’t manage it. Three further Columbia albums were moderately successful (but not in the same league as the ‘Disco Lady’ yielding ‘Eargasm’). Then, after a brief stint at RCA, JT cut two more Columbia sets (‘She’s Killing Me’ and ‘A New Day”) and these two later Columbia albums (brought together on a “twofer”) have just won reissue on SoulMusic Records… and you can see (and hear, of course) singer and producers (Brad Shapiro and Don Davis) trying to hit disco pay dirt again.
‘She’s Killing Me’ came out in 1979. Disco was still king and the seven tracker were studded with fuel for the feet but most of the up-tempo tracks were pedestrian and lacking the magic that made ‘Disco Lady’ what it was. Best of the beaters is the opener, ‘Little Dancing Queen’. Stick with it and you’ll hear some sweet changes at about the mid-point. Best cut by a mile is the Southern flavoured ballad ‘Play Something Pretty’ which opens with the telling line, “Baby, let’s stay home tonight. I don’t wanna see no disco lights”.
‘A New Day’ was released in 1980 just as disco was beginning to wane and the set’s up-tempo material is less slick – even veering towards funk in places. Once again though, it’s the ballads like ‘Signing Off With Love’ that have travelled time best. Top tune though is a pacey item that eschews the disco gloss in favour of classic soul dance rhythms. The cut is ‘Sylvia’ which features vocal group Enchantment on BVs and it’s a great and typical Don Davis production. Johnnie’s on fine form and really that’s what makes this “twofer” appealing. Yes, a lot of the material is moderate and the production in places is predictable, but come on – this is Johnnie Taylor remember…. one of the best and most distinctive soul voices of the 20th century.