PHYLLIS HYMAN: ‘Somewhere In My Lifetime’ (Soul Music)

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When Buddah Records – which had released Phyllis Hyman’s self-titled debut in 1977 – sold the Philadelphia singer’s contract without her consent to Clive Davis’s upwardly mobile and financially well-endowed Arista company in 1978, she was less then pleased and thus began what was allegedly a fractious relationship between the singer and the music mogul. This, her debut for Arista, and which is now reissued for the first time outside of Japan, reflects Davis’s attempt to manipulate the singer’s career.  He jettisoned decent tracks co-produced by Hyman’s husband, Larry Alexander together with Skip Scarborough, originally scheduled for the LP – namely ‘Sweet Music,’ ‘Love Is Free,’ and ‘Sing A Song,’ all included as welcome bonus cuts on this expanded reissue –  and authorised four new tracks cut in New York under the auspices of Barry Manilow and T. Life.

On the evidence supplied here, Davis made a bit of a blunder by tampering with the LP and ‘Somewhere In My Lifetime’ would have been a better album if the original tracks had been reinstated. The Manilow-produced title cut is a turgid slice of overblown, Broadway-esque MOR that is only redeemed by Hyman’s plangent vocal while the T. Life-helmed cuts (‘Kiss You All Over,’ ‘Lookin’ For A Loivin”and ‘So Strange’) are disposable disco-pop fluff.  Ironically, the best tracks are those masterminded by Alexander and Scarborough.  ‘Living Inside Your Love’ is a brilliant tour de force of symphonic disco-funk while ‘The Answer Is You’ showcases Hyman’s skill as a ballad singer. Even better is ‘Gonna Make Changes,’ a beautifully-wrought, jazz-inflected hymn to self-determination that features Herbie Hancock on keyboards. It’s a sublime moment that encapsulates the soulful essence of a singer who possessed one of the most haunting voices in R&B. The bonus material (five tracks in all) comprise 12-inch mixes of ‘So Strange’ and ‘Kiss You All Over’ but best of all are the three outtakes mentioned above. ‘Sweet Music’ is fresh, joyful and funky while the outstanding  ‘Love Is Free’ mines a dark and dirtier funk groove and boasts a great chorus. Different again is ‘Sing A Song,’ a jazzy number which highlights the arresting sonorities of Hyman’s ear-catching pipes.

This, then, despite the flaws of the original album, is a tremendous reissue that is topped off nicely with insightful liner notes from noted US soul writer, Scott Galloway.

(CW) 4/5