Over the past thirty-five years, I must have bought and listened to, thousands of albums. Many of these albums are albums are great albums, but commercially, weren’t successful. Often it’s hard to understand why these albums weren’t successful, why they never sold in larger quantities and why the artist wasn’t a huge star. One of the people that falls into this category, is Terry Callier, someone I’ve written about before. Previously, I’ve written about two of Terry’s “comeback” albums Timepeace released in 1998 and Lifetime released in 1999. Both are great albums, but like Color of Love, the album this article is about, weren’t a huge commercial success. Instead, Terry Callier’s music is loved by a much smaller number of people than his huge talent warrants. What Color Is Love was the second of three albums Terry released on Cadet, a subsidiary of the legendary Chess records. His first album for Cadet was Occasional Rain in 1972, which was followed by What Color Is Love in 1973 and his final album for Cadet was I Just Can’t Help Myself in 1974. These three albums were all produced by Charles Stepney, who also produced albums for amongst others, Rotary Connection, Minnie Ripperton, Earth Wind and Fire, Howlin’ Wolf and Marlena Shaw. However, this masterful trio of albums he produced for Terry Callier features some of Terry’s greatest music, and are among my favorite albums.  If I was forced to choose my favourite of the three albums, it would have to be What Color Is Love, a beautiful album that features Terry at his best. Having told you the background to the album, I’ll now tell what it sounds like.

What Color Is Love opens with Dancing Girl, an epic track that takes you on a journey. During the track he takes you to the jazz venues, bars and festivals where he played, out to the sprawling brownstone ghettos where poverty and deprivation is everywhere, introduces you to the various subcultures that were prominent in the seventies and that he’d come across through his work as a musician. It’s a powerful and emotional track, with wonderful lyrics, which have a strong narrative. Terry paints a picture so strong you can almost see it, smell it and sense it. The track begins with an acoustic guitar played briskly, before Terry sings, accompanied by gentle percussion. Gradually, the arrangement grows, strings sweep in, gradually filling the arrangement. Suddenly, he slows things way down, with just his guitar playing, as the strings dramatically swoop in, punctuated by a saxophone blowing. By now, the track has taken a dramatic turn, a bass, saxophone, drums and keyboards accompanying Terry, who gives a hugely emotional performance. His voice is much stronger, rising, all the while getting louder, as strings, drums, percussion, keyboards and bass combine. There’s an intensity present, as the track builds up to a powerful crescendo, with Terry scatting , while the arrangement becomes fuller, almost frantic, full of energy and emotion. As if spent after the drama and energy he’s expounded, the track becomes much gentler and quieter, as if Terry’s got the anger and frustration out of his system. For nine epic minutes, Terry has taken you on a complex yet magical, musical journey, full of emotion and passion.

Like the previous track it opens with an acoustic guitar and bass accompanying Terry who plays and sings slowly and and thoughtfully at the start of What Color Is Love. Percussion gently plays in the background, a trumpet blows, and then a harp and strings enter. Slowly, a dramatic and considered arrangement is unfolding, matching Terry’s tender vocal and beautiful lyrics. Instruments drift in and out of the arrangement, with some remaining throughout the track. One thing that makes this track so good, is the use of strings. They compliment the vocal perfectly, their sound lush and sweet. There is a strong bass line during the song, which is slow, accurate, prominent in the mix. However, the star of the track is Terry, whose vocal is among the best on the album. He sings the song slowly and tenderly, taking care with his beautiful lyrics, which consider the question of love. After the dramatic Dancing Girl, the slower tempo of What Color Is Love is a nice contrast. Like, Dancing Girl, it features a stunning performance from Terry, and has some beautiful, philosophical and powerful lyrics.

You’re Gonna Miss Your Candyman begins with acoustic guitar, bass and percussion before Terry sings. When he sings, his voice is louder and the tempo quicker. Like Dancing Girl, the arrangement slowly unfolds until it becomes much fuller. When the arrangement fills out, it’a combination of the rhythm section, percussion, guitars and later, the horn section announce their arrival. By then, the arrangement is faster, with Terry giving a much quicker and louder, but passionate vocal. During the track, his vocal drops out, and the band are left to fill the gap. This they do impressively, combining brilliantly, as they showcase their considerable talents. Another similarity to Dancing Girl is how once the arrangement has become much fuller and quicker, Terry slows things way down. Here, however, he builds things back up again. Again, it’s an epic track, sung with power, passion and drenched in emotion. It’s almost a grandiose arrangement, full of energy, thanks to producer Charles Stepney. It sounds fantastic, and allows the listener to hear a very different side of Terry Callier.

The other side of Terry is apparent on Just As Long As We’re In Love, briefly. Backing vocalists sweetly sing, accompanied by a piano, as the track opens. When Terry sings, his vocal is much quieter and gentle. However, this doesn’t last long as producer, Charles Stepney, has another dramatic and fuller arrangement planned. Drums, a horn section and piano combine to create a backdrop that’s dramatic and powerful in equal measures, but soon heads towards a much gentler and melodic part of the arrangement. That’s when the backing vocalists reappear, piano and guitars accompanying them. Quickly, the arrangement builds back up, only to return to this much more gentle, melodic part, complete with strings. Overall, it’s an arrangement of two parts, one part full of drama and passion, the other much more gentle and considered. However, this works, and when you hear the track, the two contrasts fit together perfectly, into what’s a beautiful song about love, brilliantly sung by Terry, thoughtfully and with passion.

Keyboards play slowly, their sound melodic at the start of Hso Tsing Me (A Song of the Sun), and are joined by a bass before Terry sings. When he sings his voice is quiet, yet strong as the arrangement quickly grows. Strings, the horn section, piano, guitars and rhythm section all combine to produce a full sounding arrangement, to accompany Terry’s much louder vocal, which by now, is full of frustration and anger. Behind him the arrangement sweeps along beautifully, strings sweeping, guitars chiming and the piano dramatically playing and all prominent in the mix. Like before, however, Terry’s vocal steals the show. His voice is laden with emotion, it’s full of passion, as he’s questioning why things are happening? The lyrics are spiritual, and it’s as if he’s questioning his faith, asking a higher power why are these things happening? This is yet another fantastic track, with searching and thoughtful lyrics that are laden with emotion when delivered by Terry.

An acoustic guitar and harmonica play as I’d Rather Be With You begins. Terry’s voice is much quieter and gentler as he sings some beautiful and thoughtful lyrics about love. Quickly, Terry’s voice strengthens, gets louder and the arrangement fills out. A piano, bass, strings and percussion playing behind Terry, combining to produce a beautiful lush sound and one of the best arrangements on the album. Later, a saxophone plays, and combined with Terry’s voice and the strings, this lifts the arrangement. Throughout the track, a harmonica accompanies Terry, playing quietly in the background beautifully. The longer the track progresses, the better the arrangement gets. Charles Stepney really has surpassed himself, the way he’s arranged the track. His use of strings, horns and piano especially, and where and when he’s used them, really bring the track to life. Here the lyrics are among the best on the album, and Terry cowrote the song with Jerry Butler and Larry Wade. As Terry sings them, you can imagine the scenes unfolding before your eyes. That, to me, is the sign of good lyrics, ones with a really strong narrative. I’d Rather Be With You one of my favorite tracks on the album. For me, it has everything, it sounds great, has a great vocal and lyrics, and a fantastic arrangement courtesy of Charles Stepney.

What Color Is Love closes with You Don’t Care, which is mostly an instrumental track, except when the backing vocalists occasionally sing. It’s a track with a lovely lush arrangement, that begins with piano, drums, strings and horns playing, before a lovely acoustic guitar solo is played. This lovely arrangement is made all the better by the backing vocalists sweetly interjecting. The track has a sweeping, orchestral sound, with the addition of a Spanish style acoustic guitar solo. As the track meanders beautifully, dramatic peaks emerge, while strings sweep beautifully, their sound lush, made all the better when the horn section join in. For five and a half minutes this beautiful, sweeping, lush track gracefully unfolds, and although an unusual way to end the album, it certainly is a beautiful way to do so. 

This album has long been a favorite of mine, and like many people I love and treasure What Color Is Love. To me, this was the best of the three albums he recorded for Cadet, and is one of the finest albums he ever recorded. How it wasn’t a huge hit, I’ll never understand. The album features some of the best songs Terry has ever written or recorded and thanks to producer Charles Stepney, it has some wonderful arrangements on it. He was backed by a hugely talented group of musicians, and was signed to Cadet, a subsidiary of Chess who had many successful singles and albums before. However, for whatever reason, What Color Is Love wasn’t a commercial success, and neither was the album that followed it, I Just Can’t Help Myself. When he was dropped by Cadet, he signed to Elektra where he released two albums. Neither sold well, and it wasn’t long after that, that Terry took a sabbatical from music, to look after his daughter and he retrained as a computer programmer. Thankfully, he was convinced to come out of retirement, and since then, has released several albums. Sadly, he’s still not a huge commercial success, like his talent warrants. That just shows that in the music industry, sadly talent only gets you so far. 

If after reading this article, you’re interested in hearing Terry’s music, I would recommend from his earlier work, the three albums he recorded for Cadet Occasional Rain, What Color Is Love and I Just Can’t Help Myself. Alternately, you could buy Essential, The Very Best of, which features the best of the his music from his three Cadet albums. From his later period, I’d recommend Timepeace and Lifetime. There is one other compilation I’d recommend and that’s About Time: The Terry Callier Story 1965-1982. Any of the albums I’ve mentioned will feature some brilliant music, and very soon, you’ll become a huge fan of Terry Callier’s music. Standout Tracks: Dancing Girl, What Color Is Love, Just As Long As We’re In Love and I’d Rather Be With You.


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