Lenny Williams was the voice of prime time Tower of Power but he always hankered after solo stardom. Even when he was a fully-paid up member of TOP, he cut a solo set (‘Pray For The Lion’ – helmed by Eugene McDaniels, no less) but then in 1975 he finally flew the nest and inked a solo deal with Motown. The fruit of the liaison was the 10 track LP, ‘Rise Sleeping Beauty’ which, despite Williams’ then high profile, had little impact. Hindsight offers all kinds of reasons for its lack of success. Williams claims he was low down on the Motown promotion pecking order and he wasn’t happy with the packaging and art work which he claims misrepresented what he was trying to get across. Whatever, the album’s long been out print but now with this bbr reissue we have the opportunity to reassess it.
First, the packaging; the cover photo shows Lenny – Svengali-like – standing over a sleeping beauty and encouraging her to rise, ostensibly into his loving arms. Harsh critics latched onto the cover, claiming the photo postulated the male/female power myth and there’s some logic in that given the album’s title. However, the song, after which the album was named, isn’t about that at all; it’s actually a socio/political song, appealing for America (“the beauty”) to rise and attempt to solve its deep social problems. Indeed, inspired by ‘What’s Going On’, Lenny’s Motown set offered a number of provocative cuts aside from that title tune. The best is without doubt ‘Shame’. This has a feel of ‘What’s Going On’ about it and it deserves some recognition.
However, apart from that cover controversy, this album is best remembered for the lovely ballad, ”Cause I Love You’. Quiet Storm fans revere it and it became something of a signature tune for Williams … he even re-recorded it for his ABC ‘Spark Of Love’ long player. There’s another great ballad on the album – ‘Loving Station’. This one recalls Williams’ time in Tower Of Power…. a mellow, brass-laden opus.
Elsewhere, unfocused beaters like ‘I’m a Pioneer’ and ‘Run On See What The Ends Gonna Be’ haven’t travelled down time too well, but even on below par material you still get to enjoy the voice of Lenny Williams – arguably one of the most dynamic falsettos in all of soul.