Monday, 6 February 2017

"Stay Free" by ASHFORD and SIMPSON (2015 Big Break Records (BBR) 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Four Bonus Tracks) - A Review by Mark Barry...


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"...Finally Got To Me..."

Like many Soul and Funk fans I’ve been waiting for Big Break Records of the UK to have a proper go at the superb Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson catalogue on Warner Brothers Records having had to do with the Warner Bros 2CD set Rhino put out a few years back (2008). And here BBR comes with "Is It Still Good To Ya" from 1978 (see separate review) and this - “Stay Free” from 1979 – both Remastered and Expanded to perfection with a decent cache of cool bonus mixes. Found A Cure indeed - here are the details...

UK released 31 July 2015 (August 2015 in the USA) - "Stay Free" by ASHFORD & SIMPSON on Big Break Records CDBBRX 0325 (Barcode 5013929062535) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Version with 4 Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (62:37 minutes).

1. Found A Cure
2. Stay Free
3. Dance Forever
4. Nobody Knows [Side 2]
5. Crazy
6. Finally Got To Me
7. Follow Your Heart
Tracks 1 to 7 are the album "Stay Free" – released September 1979 in the USA on Warner Brothers HS-3357 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56703

BONUS TRACKS:
8. Found A Cure (Single Version)
9. Nobody Knows (Single Version)
10. Stay Free (Mike Maurro Groove Mix)
11. Found A Cure (Single Version)

There’s a 16-page booklet with liner notes by a veteran of these releases CHRISTIAN JOHN WIKANE - along with photos of US Warner Brothers 45s and those sought after American Promo 12" singles ("Nobody Knows" on PRO-A-437 and "Found A Cure" on DWBS 8874). There are rare 7" pictures sleeves for "Found A Cure" (a huge Number 2 hit at the time) and "Nobody Knows" as well as in-the-studio shots and other quality publicity photos. The remaster is by BBR's own WAYNE A. DICKSON with additional work from the vastly experienced NICK ROBBINS (does tons of work for Ace and other labels). The audio is fabulous – full of power and the amazing Production values afforded the album in the first place. Fans are going to love those 7" single mixes after the extended workouts of the album versions...

While both the slick Bass and Piano Funk of "Found A Cure" and the mega dancefloor filler of "Nobody Knows" (what a tune and one that DJs still spin today) dominated the charts at the time (they reached No. 2 and 19 in July and December 1979 on the US R 'n' B singles charts) – album cuts like the brilliant strings and Soul-Funk of "Stay Free" and the pretty mid-tempo ballad of "Crazy" (played in bedrooms everywhere in 1979) will thrill fans of this criminally forgotten A&S album. I remember the LP built strongly on the good stuff from "Is It Still Good To Ya" record from the year previous - to a point where Ashford & Simpson seemed to be on every dancefloor everywhere at the end of that eventful decade. There's fabulous Audio too on another fave of mine – "Finally Got To Me" – beautifully handled and full of punch (I'd honestly forgotten how good this song is). The 7-track LP ends of the pretty "Follow Your Heart" – all swooning strings, rolling piano keys and breathy Valerie Simpson vocals.

The 7" single mix of "Found A Cure" runs to 3:47 minutes and comes as a punchy shock having been so used to the longer album version (all these years). The 3:51 minutes of "Nobody Knows" is the same. Another sweet surprise the 6:23 minute mix of "Stay Free" by ace mixer Mike Maurro who accentuates the slap bass lines and strings (very smartly done). As much as I know his revered reputation amongst Disco and Soul fans – I'm not so sure I'd want to wade through the 10:30 minutes of Tom Moulton's Remix of "Found A Cure" again – too much of a good thing methinks...

So there you have it. Great sound and tasty presentation – another winner from BBR and one that fans of this long-lasting Soul/Funk/R&B duo will need...

PS: Big Break Records (BBR) CD Remasters I’ve reviewed:
1. Send It – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1977)
2. Is It Still Good To Ya – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1978)
3. Stay Free – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1979)
4. Central Heating – HEATWAVE (1977)
5. Hot Property - HEATWAVE (1979)
6. Candles - HEATWAVE (1980)
7. Turnin' On - HIGH INERGY (1977)
8. Harvest For The World - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1976)
9. Go For Your Guns - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1977)
10. In The Heart – KOOL & THE GANG (1983)
11. I Hope We Get To Love On Time - MARILYN McCOO & BILLY DAVIS (1976)
12. I Miss You [known as "Harold Melvin The Blue Notes" in the UK] - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1972)
13. Black & Blue - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1973)
14. Love Is The Message - MFSB (1973)
15. Universal Love – MFSB (1975)
16. All The Faces Of... - BUDDY MILES (1974)
17. For The First Time – STEPHANIE MILLS (1975)
18. I Can See Clearly Now - JOHNNY NASH (1972)
19. In Philadelphia - O'JAYS (1969)
20. Back Stabbers - O'JAYS (1972)
21. Ship Ahoy - O'JAYS (1973)
22. Down To Love Town – THE ORIGINALS (1977)
23. Ebony Woman - BILLY PAUL (1970 and 1973)
24. 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul - BILLY PAUL (1972)
25. War Of The Gods - BILLY PAUL (1973)
26. Platinum Hook – PLATINUM HOOK (1978)
27. Love For What It Is - ANITA POINTER (of The Pointer Sisters) (1987)
28. Live: Stompin’ At The Savoy – RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN (1983)
29. Summernights – SILVER CONVENTION (1977)
30. Smoked Sugar - SMOKED SUGAR (1975)
31. Spinners – SPINNERS (1973)
32. Soul Master – EDWIN STARR (1968)
33. Involved - EDWIN STARR (1971)
34. Switch - SWITCH (1978)
35. Watercolors – THE WATERS (1980)
36. Just As I Am - BILL WITHERS (1971)
37. Heartbeats – YARBROUGH & PEOPLES (1983)

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