GENE VAN BUREN: ‘What’s Your Pleasure’ (Label: Funky Town Grooves)

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GENE VAN BUREN: 'What's Your Pleasure'

Even the most knowledgeable and anally-retentive of geeky soul music anoraks probably knows very little about American cult soul man, Gene Van Buren, who released a solitary album for Motown back in 1982 and then disappeared completely off the radar. Though he was never to be heard of again, evidently not everyone’s forgotten about Van Buren, as Funky Town Grooves – in a licensing deal with Universal – have made the singer/songwriter’s only LP available for the first time on CD. Though not a truly great album it’s a strong, cohesive and at times very satisfying set of soul and funk grooves showcasing Van Buren’s talents as a singer – in the mould, perhaps, of someone like Glenn Jones or Howard Hewitt – songwriter and arranger. Motown’s head honcho, Berry Gordy, who’s billed as the LP’s executive producer, certainly spared no expense when it came to hiring the top L.A. session musicians of the day – people like guitarist Marlo Henderson, keyboard wizard Michael Boddiker, bassist James Jamerson (it was one of the legendary Motown bassist’s last sessions before his death) and drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler. The album opens with a slice of rather uninspired robotic synth funk called ‘Action’ but after that improves dramatically. ‘You’ve Got Me Where I Want You’ is a great mid-tempo ballad with a summery vibe that allows Van Buren to show off his vocal chops. Slightly slower and smoochier is a gorgeous ballad called ‘I Love You More (Than I Hate What You Do),’ featuring plaintive female background vocals that counterpoint Van Buren’s expressive tenor lead, both framed by lush string charts courtesy of Benjamin Wright. In fact, Van Buren’s undoubted forte is romantic ballads – the set’s closer, ‘One,’ is another well-crafted and sympathetically-produced knee-trembler highlighting the singer’s rangy, expressive voice. Of the uptempo tracks, ‘Rock The House’ with its addictive chorus, punchy horn lines and slick Earth, Wind & Fire rhythmic syncopations is a strong cut. So too, the propulsive title track. As a bonus, a non-album 45, ‘You Excite Me’ – originally intended for Van Buren’s sophomore Motown album, which sadly never materialised – is included, completing a reissue that serious soul junkies should investigate post haste. For more info go to
(CW) 4/5