MAZE: Silky Soul/Back To Basics (Robinsongs)

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Frankie Beverly’s Maze have long been real favourites with the soul cognoscenti. Even casual fans will be aware of their exquisite ‘Joy And Pain’ track – still popular in the nation’s dance emporia! Most record retailers (on and off line) will have any number of greatest hits/best of packages which will allow you acquaintance with this superb outfit. But to really get to grips with the subtleties of Maze music you really do need specific albums and here reissue label Robinsongs pair the band’s last two proper albums…. 1989’s ‘Silky Soul’ and ‘Back To Basics’ from ’93.

Maze’s pedigree, of course, goes back to the early 60s when young and hopeful Philadelphia singer Frankie Beverly formed a band called The Butlers. In 1969 the Butlers became Raw Soul and moved to the West Coast to try their luck. There they were spotted by no less than Marvin Gaye who got them a deal with Capitol Records and had them open his live shows for him but only after he’d suggested a name change to Maze.

At Capitol Frankie and Maze perfected a smooth soul style that ran contrary to the then popular disco and funk that was dominating back music. After 8 albums at Capitol (seven Golds, by the way), Maze switched to Warners and the first fruit was the still-lovely ‘Silky Soul’ album. The album title is a perfect summation of the Maze sound….silky smooth with a real soulful depth. The lead single ‘Can’t Get Over You’ was an R&B chart topper, deservedly so: but the album’s real gem is the title tune. ‘Silky Soul’ is a warm homage to Marvin Gaye – lyrically and sonically. Beverly and Gaye enjoyed a close relationship (some commentators even suggest that the two “shared” Gaye’s second wife, Jan. It is detailed that Gaye paid for Frankie and Jan to holiday in the Caribbean together!). Whatever, Beverly revered Gaye as his mentor and you’ll hear no finer Marvin tribute than ‘Silky Soul’. Another album highlight is ‘Mandela’. Written when the statesman was sill in gaol, the potent song helped raise awareness of his plight.

The second CD in this pack offers ‘Back To Basics’, the band’s final Warners album. Sonically, the nine tracker was similar in feel to ‘Silky Soul’ with the exception, maybe, being the choppy, synth-led instrumental ‘Twilight’ which always crops up on those ‘best of’ sets. Highlights abound – notably ‘Love Is’, a cut that has everything that makes Maze music so special. But dip in anywhere and you’ll enjoy something really special, “silky soul”, if you would.

With concise sleeve notes from our very own Charles Waring this twofer makes an excellent introduction to Maze and their music.

(BB) 4/5