Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Songs/Hey Love" by ROTARY CONNECTION featuring MINNIE RIPERTON (October 1998 'Ace/Beat Goes Public' Reissue - 2LPs onto 1CD - Duncan Cowell Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...



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"...In The Sunshine Of Your Love..."

I've had this October 1998 CD by Ace Records/Beat Goes Public for years now and treasure it like its some sort of Soul Holy Grail. It features 2LPs Remastered on one disc - Rotary Connection's "Songs" (1969) and "Hey, Love" (1971).

The albums are a tale of two worlds - "Songs" is made up entirely of cover versions and features the combined talent of singers SIDNEY BARNES, the mercurial MINNIE RIPERTON and (the mysterious) JERIMIAH – all three being principal vocalists. "Hey, Love" from 1971 saw major line-up changes and for me a huge step up in the songwriting quality. Here are the connecting details...

UK released October 1998 - "Songs/Hey, Love" by THE ROTARY CONNECTION featuring MINNIE RIPERTON on Ace/Beat Goes Public CDBGPD 115 (Barcode 0296675111520) features 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD and plays out as follows (75:27 minutes):

1. Respect
2. The Weight
3. Sunshine Of Your Love
4. I Got My Mojo Working
5. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
6. Tales Of Brave Ulysses
7. This Town
8. We’re Going Wrong
9. The Salt Of The earth
"Songs" was originally US released in the summer of 1969 on Chess/Cadet-Concept LPS-322 and credited to ROTARY CONNECTION. Label boss MARSHALL CHESS and the visionary CHARLES STEPNEY co-produced the record.

JON STRICKLAND played a fuzz guitar as they laid into Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love", "We're Going Wrong" and "Tales Of Brave Ulysses", The Band's "The Weight" and "This Town" by Stevie Wonder. There are also stabs at Otis Redding's "Respect", Jimi Hendrix's "The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp", "Salt Of The Earth" by The Stones and "I've Got My Mojo Working" by Muddy Waters. “Songs” is not a slave-the-original album - the covers are tear 'em up re-workings and I love what they did. The fuzz guitar in "Mojo" is amazing. Sidney Barnes also had the most beautifully expressive voice - the velvet of Brook Benton meets the soulfulness of Marvin Gaye circa "What's Going On". But admittedly with its heavily laden string-arrangements and lush vocal backings (Minnie soaring into the octaves) - it may not be everyone's purist idea of Soul - but for me the better moments (the trio of radically re-worked Cream covers) make it so worthwhile. However, things moved on immeasurably and undeniably with the next record.

10. If I Sing My Song
11. The Sea & She
12. I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun
13. Hangin' Round The Bee Tree
14. Hey, Love
15. Love Has Fallen On Me
16. Song For Everyman
17. Love Is
18. Vine Of Happiness

I've always considered "Hey, Love" to be a bit of a masterpiece (see my separate review for the new 2013 remaster out of Japan on the "Chess Best Collection" series). Originally released on vinyl in the States on Chess/Cadet Concept CC 50006 in August 1971 and credited to THE NEW ROTARY CONNECTION - it features the hand of writer/arranger/player maestro CHARLES STEPNEY. Stepney was Chess's answer to Norman Whitfield - a man with a conscience and a way with a funky and soulful tune. The other attractions are MINNIE RIPERTON, KITTY HAYWOOD, SHIRLEY WAHLS and DAVE SCOTT all on Lead Vocals with Stepney playing a huge number of instruments as well as arranging. Top session-men include superb guitarists PHIL UPCHURCH (see my review of his stunning 1971 double-album "Darkness Darkness" also on Japanese CD) and the axework of PAT FERRERI. The album also featured RICHARD RUDOLPH (Minnie Riperton's husband of the time) - he solo wrote both "Hanging Round The Bee Tree" and "The Sea & She" and excepting one other - co-wrote the rest of the album with Stepney.

The album's big tune is the magnificent "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun" which was rescued from obscurity by British/US Funksters NUYORCIAN SOUL featuring JOCELYN BROWN when they sampled and covered it in November 1997 on the Talkin' Loud label. They brought the song and Rotary Connection in general into the charts (to 31). Ace then reissued this CD the following year (Oct 1998) and there's been vinyl repros of the "Hey, Love" LP in the West End of London ever since - meeting the demands of those constantly searching for something cool and Soulful to rediscover.

Besides "Gold" there are 4 other masterpieces on here - the echoed and swirling vocals of "Hanging Round The Bee Tree" (graced many of my Reckless in-store play lists), the gorgeous and sunny upbeat title track "Hey, Love" followed by Kitty Haywood letting it vocally rip on the sublime "Love Has Fallen For Me" (covered by Chaka Khan on her "I'm Every Woman" LP). But the best for me is the lone TERRY CALLIER track (a songwriter Stepney was plugging) called "Song For Everyman" - it is just brilliant and sends me every time I hear it (lyrics from it title this review). We should also mention the sublime vocals of SIDNEY BARNES who never seemed to get the credit he so richly deserved. And what can you say about the voice of MINNIE RIPERTON who could make grown men cry by just hitting an octave most couldn’t reach…

The DEAN RUDLAND liner notes are superb (I've raved about his writing across so many Ace and Kent Soul reissues) and the remaster by Sound Mastering of London used the original master tapes (probably DUNCAN COWELL). It's lovely - full of presence and vocals swirling around your speakers – properly fab.

So why didn't they make it? I suspect that with all those hippy-dip lyrical references to helping out your brother and bombing others with love - the group was perceived as a poor man's Fifth Dimension - a sort of watered down gathering peddling a lame "Hair" musical. This of course did for them commercially and is just plain wrong as an assessment. Typically it took British Soul fans to reignite interest and a torrent of well-deserved praise has followed ever since.

Charles Stepney is a sort of underground cult figure now amongst aficionados - spoken about in hushed tones. Minnie Riperton went solo and produced a string of gorgeous Soul albums in the mid-Seventies only to sadly succumb to breast cancer at a criminally young age in 1979.Still - they all have this legacy to remind us. A fantastic CD – and one you need to discover...

PS: see also my in-depth review of the singular "Hey, Love" reissue out of Japan in 2013 as part of their "Chess Best Collection" Series - and a separate review for their first album just called “Rotary Connection”...

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