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Monday, March 20, 2017

Barbara Lewis: The Many Grooves Of Barbara Lewis


1) Baby, That's A No-No; 2) Windmills Of Your Mind; 3) Slip Away; 4) How Can I Tell; 5) Break Away; 6) Oh, Be My Love; 7) Just The Way You Are Today; 8) Anyway; 9) But You Know I Love You; 10) You Made Me A Woman; 11) The Stars; 12) Do I Deserve It Baby.

Before fading out completely, Barbara Lewis got one last chance at parading her muse with this record, released on the Enterprise label — a subsidiary of Stax, founded largely to accommodate the early production of Isaac Hayes, even though Barbara was never much of a Hayes protege (at least, I am not aware of any of his songs that she'd covered). Once again, for some reason, the emphasis is on the «groove» side of Lewis, an artist whose smooth balladry had always been as far removed from «grooving» as possible — but if you understand «groovy» in the sense of "life, I love you, all is groovy", then you just might have something there.

The record continues well in the vein of its predecessor: pure ballads aside, there's quite a few rhythmic tracks with some energy and «bottom» to them, enough to compete at least formally with classic Motown material, if never in terms of catchiness or originality — not surprisingly, since, once again, most of the writers here are professional pop (and sometimes blues) experts, in touch with formulas but largely out of touch with the spirit. Once again, despite the label change, Lewis gets no chance at advancing her own songwriting techniques — and, who knows, perhaps she simply did not care by this time.

A few of the songs seem to want to feature a refreshed, revitalized Barbara Lewis singing in a deeper, more powerful voice — ʽBaby, That's A No-Noʼ opens the album on precisely this note, and Morris Dollison's ʽBreak Awayʼ (alas, nothing to do with the classic Beach Boys song of the same name) is a relative highlight in the same vein, although the former song has Barbara stan­ding her ground against The Guy, while ʽBreak Awayʼ has her standing her ground against her­self, because she can't break away from The Guy. Funky, soulful, lightly tragic, well framed by ghostly backing vocals, this is, I guess, every bit as good as any contemporary Diana Ross song, but there's a problem — Barbara Lewis as a strong-tempered character just does not come across as perfectly convincing; you can still tell that suave, sentimental numbers like ʽOh Be My Loveʼ and ʽAnywayʼ represent her natural turf. Therefore, on one hand, it is a relief to see a record that has more funky guitar, well-syncopated bass, and toe-tappy rhythms than all of Barbara's pre­vious career put together — on the other hand, it is sad to see how unfit she is, in general, for feeling at home with this music.

It works fairly well as a finale to a mediocre, but inoffensive and mildly charming career: after this record, nothing whatsoever would be heard from Barbara in the music world, apart from an occasional nostalgic emergence (as of the 2010s, she can still be seen performing). Nevertheless, despite the mediocrity, there is still a certain small market for albums like these — clean, taste­ful, thoroughly derivative, but full of tiny individual nuances that will not go unnoticed by serious fans of «soft R'n'B» — and while most of the world will probably only remember Barbara Lewis for ʽHello Strangerʼ and ʽBaby I'm Yoursʼ, a tiny smidgen of the world still might want to remem­ber her for her many grooves, and there'd be nothing wrong with that.

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