MARTHA REEVES: ‘Martha Reeves’ (Label: Hip-O Select)

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MARTHA REEVES: 'Martha Reeves'

In 1973, some of the executives at MCA Records must have been smiling smugly to themselves. In fact, they were probably so ecstatic that they very well might have been dancing in the street. After all, they’d just beaten a raft of other record labels to sign ’60s Motown star, Martha Reeves, who was intent on pursuing a solo career after the demise of her prolific hit-making group, Martha & The Vandellas, in 1972. In truth, MCA had the perfect opportunity for transforming Martha Reeves into a solo superstar and perhaps that’s why they got her to join forces with pop/rock producer, Richard Perry, for a debut LP that eventually came out in 1974. But although MCA had an eye on huge, Diana Ross-style, crossover success for Reeves, their plan backfired badly – soul fans virtually ignored the record and pop fans couldn’t care less either. The album’s failure to ignite the charts is clearly apparent on listening to this Hip-O Select reissue (which was first issued in 2005 and now gets a bona fide UK release via Universal Music Import Services). The problem is producer Perry’s choice of songs and his stolid, sometimes leaden, rock/pop production and arrangements – it might have been all right for the likes of Carly Simon or Ringo Starr but it just doesn’t suit Martha Reeves. The opening cut is a stab at Van Morrison’s ‘Wild Night,’ but it sounds strangely stilted and lacks the freewheeling energy of the original. The amazing thing is that the musicians backing Reeves include James Jamerson, James Gadson, Wah-Wah Watson and Billy Preston – however, it’s the rhythm section, and in particular, Jim Keltner’s heavy, rock-style drums, where the fault lies. At Motown, there was a real sense of swing in the grooves that the Funk Brothers laid down behind Martha & The Vandellas – here, though, even with Jamerson present on three tracks, that sense of fluidity and syncopated cohesion is painfully absent. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a truly bad album – although ‘Sweet Misery’ and the rock and roll number, ‘Storm In My Soul,’ are real duffers – but it just doesn’t gel. The music seems out of kilter with Reeves’ gospel-reared vocals and there’s a palpable sense of awkwardness between the singer and her backing tracks. Rarely, in fact, does Reeves sound totally comfortable with the musical settings she’s been given. Nevertheless, the album yielded a Top 30 R&B single in the shape of a cover of the Gamble-Huff-penned ‘Power Of Love,’ previously a hit for Joe Simon in 1972. There’s also a Motown cover – ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ – and a faithful retread of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ but they don’t really cut the mustard. The music here is so far removed from what Martha Reeves was doing at Motown that it’s no wonder it alienated soul fans 34 years ago. This limited edition reissue is worth picking up if you’re a Martha Reeves’ completist but otherwise, it’s best, perhaps, left alone (get Hip-O Select’s Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ superb ‘Lost & Found’ set instead).
(CW) 3/5