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  Listen Up! 2/4/03 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Feb. 4

Various Artists, “Holland Dozier Holland Solid Gold: The Invictus/Hot Wax Gold Collection – Vol. 2,” HDH Records. After Holland Dozier Holland split from Motown and started their own record label, they actually seemed capable of being major players in the soul marketplace. They had huge hits, especially from Freda Payne (whose “Band of Gold,” the greatest pop song ever written, about impotence, is included here, astonishingly falling into Vol. 2) and Honey Cone. But even the singles just thrown out that didn’t climb the charts were really good. They were obviously learning from the harder edged Norman Whitfield Motown sound that had followed in their wake, and they were picking up cues from the beginnings of the Gamble/Huff Philadelphia sound. Great songs, terrific vocalists – many of you have probably never heard the force of nature that was Laura Lee – good records.

Eric Reed, “The Swing & I,” MoJazz Records. This guy is one heck of a piano player. Somehow, I don’t remember hearing him before. This album came out in 1994. Beautiful, rich tone from the piano, a delicate touch that hugs the melodies, and the ability to get rough and funky. I like this.

Diana Ross, “Diana,” RCA Records. The legendary Chic album with Diana Ross singing on it, this has two of the finest pop singles of the last 25 years, “Upside Down” and the masterful “I’m Coming Out.” The other songs are mostly just fine, too, only I haven’t memorized their perfection the way I have the singles. Ross was always a vocal cipher, which made her fit just fine with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Chic never needed vocalists who emoted, merely vocalists who carried a tune and were willing to float with their endless rhythmic invention.

Janet Jackson, “1986/1996 Design of a Decade,” A&M Records. As huge a fan of Janet Jackson as I am, I actually prefer her albums that post-date this collection. Of course the rhythmic enthusiasm of these old-school Jam and Lewis cuts can’t be denied, and the hooks are piled up in head-on collisions, but that bright sound of the late 80s/early 90s gets a little wearying after a while. Oh, well, a day that has Chic and Jam and Lewis productions back to back in it is a very good day of music for me.

--Steve Pick

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