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Randy Crawford – Raw Silk – Warner Bros. (1979)/ Pure Pleasure vinyl (2015)

Randy Crawford – Raw Silk – Warner Brothers (1979)/ Pure Pleasure Records vinyl (2015) – PPAN BSK3282, 45:34 ****:

(Randy Crawford – vocals; Don Grusin – electric piano, piano, Greg Poree – guitar; Abraham Laboriel – bass; James Gadson – drums; Leon Pendarvis – piano, electric piano; John Tropea – guitar; Will Lee – bass; Rick Marotta – drums; Joe Porcaro – percussion; William D. Smith – clavinet; Phyllis St. James – background vocals)

Veronica “Randy” Crawford hails from Macon, Georgia. An American jazz/r & b singer, she achieved greater success in Europe than in the U.S. In the mid-seventies, it appeared that she would be a solid part of the American jazz scene, performing with George Benson and Cannonball Adderly. Crawford sang on Yes guitarist Steve Howe’s solo effort, Please Don’t Touch in 1978. The following year, her collaboration with The Crusaders on “Street Life” did respectably on U.S. Pop and R & B charts, but much better in England. Initially signed by Columbia, Crawford’s musical legacy and solo career were defined by her ten albums with Warner Brothers.  Although, there was some acknowledgment on the U.S. Jazz charts, a breakthrough never materialized. She continued to release solo albums, and has sung with Joe Sample, Bootsy Collins, Quincy Jones and Al Jarreau.

Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Crawford’s third Warner Bros. release Raw Silk (1979). The album consists of lush, studio arrangements that surround Crawford’s prominent voice. The opening track, “I Stand Accused” (previously recorded by Isaac Hayes with a patented “long version”) is unadulterated, heartfelt soul. With era-representative atmospheric electric piano (Don Grusin), the band performs hooks and modulations as Crawford wails about love. She can crank it up with the best of them. On “Declaration Of Love”, there is a subtle Allen Toussiant horn chart that complements the fluid sound. Regardless of studio polish, this is a voice that cannot be restrained. “Someone To Believe In” is a universal ballad of romantic yearning (“…someone to come home to after a weary day…”). There is a lyrical string accompaniment (Ian Freebairn-Smith), not at all unusual for this time period. Crawford is capable of turning up the heat at anytime. With funkiness and a clavinet groove (William D. Smith), “Endlessly” churns out hypnotic rhythms and Crawford responds with intensity. On a different, jazzy note, “Love Is Like A Newborn Child” starts with a piano/voice duet. The vocals are belted out like a gospel show tune.

Crawford utilizes a variety of songwriters on Raw Silk. Side2 begins with a soul/pop cover of Ashford and Simpson’s “Where There Was Darkness”. Backup vocals (Phyllis St. James) and stings underscore the smooth tempos. A pleasant surprising choice is Bert Williams’ 1905 doleful “Nobody”. The arrangement is scaled back to capture the bluesy vocal phrasing. Bill LaBounty’s clever take on breaking up, “I Hope You’ll Be Very Unhappy Without Me” returns to the finger-snapping grooves and hooks that dominate the album. The vocals are still forceful. An original composition, “I Got Myself A Happy Song” is tougher (Toussaint horns) up tempo material that livens the band. But it’s the tender strains of the Marvin Gaye classic, “Just To Keep You Satisfied” that unites the powerful voice with the most textured (strings and woodwinds) acoustics. Crawford has an emotional, spiritual voice and the finale, “Blue Mood,” captures this. Her pure gospel vibrancy is on display. With a nimble piano intro (Leon Pendarvis), the flow of this number is exceptional. Additionally the band turns in a cohesive performance.

Audiophile vinyl was a good choice for this version of Raw Silk. Crawford’s voice is powerful, but also has richness in subdued moments. The horns and strings are mixed seamlessly and never intrude on Crawford. The bass and drums are present, but ambient. Crawford is a force, but at times held back by the extensive production.

TrackList:

Side 1: I Stand Accused; Declaration Of Love; Someone To Believe In; Endlessly; Love Is Like A Newborn Child

Side 2: Where There Was Darkness; Nobody; I Hope You’ll Be Very Unhappy Without Me; I Got Myself A Happy Song; Just To Keep You Satisfied; Blue Mood

—Robbie Gerson

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