Thelma Houston is best known by the mainstream for her 1977 disco romp, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, but the soul cognoscenti – and indeed Ms. Houston herself – consider the ‘Sunshower’ album her meister work. The album was the brainchild of the legendary writer Jimmy Webb who back in 1968 was hot, Grammy-award-winning property. Webb had come into contact with Thelma via Marc Gordon, the manager of the Fifth Dimension, for whom Webb had already penned several songs and in the young ex-gospel singer, the writer believed he’d found the voice to properly deliver an elaborate song cycle that he’d been working on… time, of course, proved him right!

The album ‘Sunshower’ is wonderful late 60s musical artefact. It’s an overwhelming fusion of soul, pop, rock, gospel and easy-listening with a undercurrent of the then popular over-wrought baroque arrangements that held sway on the West coast circa ’68/’69. Best example of that sound is ‘Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon’ which Thelma herself admits was the most difficult song to tackle… involving all kinds of switches and changes and snatches of the oldie ‘By The Light Of The Silvery Moon’. Despite the inherent problems, Thelma succeeds as she does, too, brilliantly, on the still-wonderful ‘To Make It Easier On You’ and ‘Crazy Mixed-Up Girl’ – two of Webb’s best-ever creations. Both songs had the potential to become standards and maybe because of Thelma’s lack of recording experience (at the time) the cuts totally avoid the sentimentality usually associated with songs of this type. The same goes for what is possibly the best-known Webb song on the set – ‘Didn’t We’. Recorded by all kinds of big names (Richard Harris, Sinatra, Streisand… to name a few), Thelma Houston inhabits it in her own way and this one cut would make the album an essential purchase.

Arguments still persist as to why Webb added a cover of the Stones ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ to his original eleven songs but covers of pop/rock hits were par for the 1968 course and Thelma certainly sings sweeter that Jagger. .. again another reason for serious investigation. If that wasn’t enough, this reissue of ‘Sunflower’ offers half-a-dozen bonus cuts… the singles that ABC/Dunhill had Thelma record in an effort to make some money from her – because, oddly, ‘Sunshower’ bombed. Amongst those bonuses there’s a good, if predictable cover of Laura Nyro’s ‘Save The Children’ and a lovely, simple Lambert/Potter ballad ‘I Just Gotta be Me’. Neither of those – nor any of the other four – though, match the complexity and depth of the Webb songs, which are made that little bit easier to understand thanks to some insightful sleeve notes from’ s Charles Waring. Thelma Houston’s ‘Sunshower’ album is available now via a linkup between David Nathan’s label and Ralph Tee’s Expansion set up.

(BB) 4/’5