For most of us, it is something special when a really a great idea comes to us. It’s even more special when the idea comes to fruition just as planned. That’s the basic story behind the pairing to two soul music legends, Melba Moore and Phil Perry, on the enjoyable new Shanachie Records release, The Gift of Love.
Moore, who has been a star of stage, screen and recorded R&B for four decades, has spent the better part of the last two immersed in the Gospel world (with another stop on Broadway for Les Miserables), making less of a national impact than she did in her halcyon days of the late 70s and early 80s but continuing to record solid music. Perry has gone the other way, becoming more prolific as he hit his mid-50s and being increasingly recognized in the public’s eye as he has been within the music industry since the early 70s, as an almost singular soul tenor.
The pairing of Moore and Perry for an album of duets had been bandied about for awhile, but only became reality this Spring when Perry signed on and brought longtime producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis with him to helm most of the album, with Preston Glass and David Nathan handling three tracks. The team’s approach to the album was wise in two important ways: first, while the disc has a number of remakes, they are all well chosen for the Moore/Perry combination. So more predictable, well worn R&B standards like “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” are countered by offbeat covers like the John Kee Gospel track “It Will Be Alright” and Stevie Wonder’s “Weakness.” Even more importantly, unlike the early albums in the Shanachie soul series, the disc also includes new compositions that freshen things up nicely.
Much of the initial attention to the album has been on the handling of the Sounds of Blackness classic, “Optimistic,” but the performance on that track is blown away by the next two, the aforementioned “It Will Be Alright” and a brilliant cover of the Marvin-Tammi gem, “You’re All I Need to Get By,” with the two artists absolutely bringing it and producer Glass smartly staying out of the way. Perry shows again why he has been the vocalist of choice on so many smooth jazz projects over the past few years, and why his career has been jumpstarted over the past half decade. But Moore also shows she still has great pipes, singing in a genre that she hasn’t touched since the early 90s.
The latter part of the disc includes new material and takes the album beyond the familiar comfort food of Motown and Philly remakes. “Survival Kit” is a bit of a bumpy ride, but is followed nicely by the Dwayne C. Palmer-penned midtempo, “We’ll Be Together Then,” and the even better Perry piano-led ballad, “U Never Know.” Best of all is the disc’s closer, a big, inspirational track,”Give (The Gift of Love),” which serves as a highpoint of the album and the perfect, rousing coda.
Melba Moore has shown her incredible versatility for so many years, I’m almost ashamed to be surprised at how well she handles the material on The Gift of Love. She sounds great, and Gift is fine welcome back to the adult R&B sound she mastered in the 80s. And for Phil Perry, whose expressive tenor sounds better than ever, this is yet another in the overwhelming volume of exhibits demonstrating that he is simply one of the finest soul singers of his generation. Highly Recommended.
By Chris Rizik