TAWATHA: Welcome To My Dream (Label: Funky Town Grooves)

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TAWATHA: Welcome To My Dream

Though she’s never achieved household name status or experienced a huge amount of fame in her own right, Philly-born chanteuse Tawatha Agee tasted chart-topping success as lead singer with the group, Mtume, in 1983 on their Billboard R&B smash, ‘Juicy Fruit.’ As well as having a prominent role on the group’s five albums, Tawatha was constantly in demand as a session singer in New York and supplied background vocals for the likes of Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin and countless others from the ’80s onwards. She had a stab at being a solo artist in 1987 when Epic gave her a deal which yielded the solitary album, ‘Welcome To My Dream.’ Helmed by her mentor and fellow Philadelphian, James ‘Mtume’ Foreman – who is, in fact, the son of the hard bop jazz saxophonist, Jimmy Heath – ‘Welcome To My Dream’ spawned a Top 10 R&B single in the shape of the catchy single, ‘Thigh Ride.’ Despite that achievement and a couple more Top 50 chart entries for songs lifted from the album – ‘Did I Dream You’ and ‘Are You Serious’ – Tawatha and Epic parted company. Out of print for many years, the album now makes a welcome return thanks to the folks at Northampton’s Funky Town Grooves label. In terms of its production, ‘Welcome To My Dream’ is unequivocally a product of the late-’80s: sonically, it’s dominated by computerised late-’80s production techniques such as robotic drum machine loops and metallic synth lines. Very dated, you might think, but the album actually holds up well in the 21st century. The key to the album’s longevity is unequivocally due to the magnificence and soulfulness of Tawatha’s distinctive voice and though the material sometimes falls short, the synthetic nature of the backing tracks only serves to highlight the majesty of Ms. Agee’s glorious pipes. There are some strong dance cuts (‘Serious,’ for example) but the best songs are the ballads – the plaintive ‘Did I Dream You’ is superb, so too the mid-tempo ‘Love Shine,’ while the mood-creating, interlude-like title cut impresses with an achingly beautiful wordless vocal melody. Two bonus cuts are appended to the original album (which has been remastered by the way): these are the 12-inch version plus a dub mix of ‘Thigh Ride.’ Some fans of ’80s soul probably never dreamed they’d witness the reissue of ‘Welcome To My Dream’ – now though, the dream has become reality. But hurry – it’s a limited edition pressing. For more info go to www.funkytowngrooves.com