DENIECE WILLIAMS: ‘Niecy’ and ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ (Label: SPV)

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DENIECE WILLIAMS: 'Niecy' and 'Let's Hear It For The Boy'

Hailing from Gary, Indiana – the mid-west town that the Jackson 5 first put on the showbiz map in the late-’60s – Deniece Williams (real name June Deniece Chandler) got her big break with Stevie Wonder’s group of backing singers, Wonderlove, in 1972, where she sang alongside Minnie Riperton. Like Riperton, Williams was blessed with a distinctive and enormously rangy soprano voice (it supposedly spans four octaves) and eventually, in 1976, she signed to Columbia where she cut her debut album, ‘This Is Niecy,’ under the production aegis of Earth, Wind & Fire main man, Maurice White. The album yielded a massive hit in the shape of ‘Free,’ a song that Williams co-penned and which is now regarded as a soul classic (significantly, it topped the UK singles chart in April 1977). Two years later, the chanteuse scored her first US chart topper in tandem with Johnny Mathis on the single ‘Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.’ In 1979, Williams moved to the ARC label – a Columbia imprint whose roster also included The Emotions – and continued to make her presence felt on the charts, though was unable to crack the Top 10 again until she joined forces with legendary Philly producer, Thom Bell, in 1982 when she recorded a version of the infectious Teddy Randazzo co-penned song, ‘It’s Gonna Take A Miracle,’ first recorded by the Baltimore girl group, The Royalettes, in 1965. The song shot to pole position in the US R&B charts (#10 pop) and re-ignited Williams’ career, resulting in the Bell-helmed long player, ‘Niecy.’ That album has now been remastered and reissued as part of a ‘twofer’ that also includes the 1984 LP, ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy.’ The latter album proved the singer’s best selling album ever – the catchy pop-flavoured title track was, of course, a huge hit in the UK, though failed to emulate the chart topping status of Williams’ debut hit, ‘Free.’ The stylistic contrast between ‘Niecy’ and ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ is quite striking – the earlier Thom Bell-produced LP is elegantly soulful but seems slightly subdued in comparison with the 1984 album, which is much brighter and poppier. Co-produced by the singer with George Duke, it exudes a mid-’80s West Coast, Hollywood-style soul sound thanks mainly to the presence of ubiquitous session men Ricky Lawson, Paul Jackson Jr, Russell Ferrante, Paulinho da Costa, John Robinson and the Laws brothers, Hubert and Ronnie. Besides the perky title track – whose success was propelled by its presence on the ‘Footloose’ soundtrack – other highlights of the album are the mid-tempo ‘Black Butterfly’ and the dancer, ‘Next Love,’ featuring mellifluous flute flourishes from Hubert Laws. Not every track is successful though – ‘Haunting Me’ is one of those awful mid-’80s ‘Beverley Hills Cop’-style high energy dance tracks that fuses rock and pop into an altogether unwholesome mess (the song’s robotic drum machine programme combined with chillingly metallic synthesiser sounds compound the misery). Overall, though, fans of ’80s soul will lap up this mid-price reissue, and if it’s successful, maybe SPV will think about reissuing Williams’ criminally-neglected 1977 sophomore album, ‘Songbird,’ which has never been reissued – perhaps alongside 1979’s ‘When Love Comes Calling.’ Now there’s a thought.
(CW) 4/5