TERRY CALLIER-FIRE ON ICE.
TERRY CALLIER-FIRE ON ICE.
One of my favorite artists of all time is Terry Callier, who I’ve previously written about before. In these articles, I’ve featured What Color Is Love, the second of the three albums he recorded on Cadet, a subsidiary of the famous Chicago label Chess. This is one of my favorite of Terry’s albums, featuring songs like Dancing Girl and What Color is Love. My other articles concentrated on two of the albums he recorded when he made his “comeback,” after a sabbatical from the music industry. These were Timepeace, released in 1998, and Lifetime, released in 1999. Both were excellent albums, and demonstrated that after a prolonged absence from music, Terry was still a hugely talented singer, songwriter and musician.
However, one period of Terry’s career that I’ve not looked at, is the two albums he recorded for Elektra, Fire and Ice, released in 1977, and Turn You To Love, released in 1978. Terry had joined Elektra after being dropped by Cadet. It was a track from Turn You To Love that gave Terry his only chart success in the US. Sign of the Times was used by disc jockey Frankie Crocker as the theme tune on his radio program. Such was the popularity of the track, that Elektra released it as a single. The single reached number seventy-eight in the US R&B Charts, and saw Terry invited to perform at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. Sadly, that was Terry’s only chart success in his home country. Of the two albums that Terry released on Elektra, both are good albums, but if I was forced to choose between the two, my favorite would be Fire and Ice, which I’ll now tell you about.
Fire and Ice opens with Be A Believer, a song written by Terry and one with lovely, positive lyrics. The track opens gently, with acoustic guitar and subtle strings sweeping, before Terry’s vocal enters. It’s strong and confident, as he sings about how belief can help you achieve what we want from life and overcome the obstacles that we face each day. Believe, and “most things in your life (will work out”). Meanwhile, the arrangement is unfolding and growing. The rhythm section and guitars combine to up the tempo, producing a much fuller sounding arrangement. Backing vocalists accompany Terry, their voices uniting joyously, matching the positivity and joy of Terry’s vocal, before horns interject beautifully, adding to the joyful, uptempo sound. A saxophone solo drifts over the top of the arrangement adding the finishing touches to a quite brilliant track, one that’s a paean to belief and faith, that’s catchy, hook laden and utterly joyous.
Holding On (To Your Love) is a track that also featured on Terry’s 1999 album Lifetime. It’s a track that I heard Terry play live many years ago, and when played the song, he did so beautifully and brilliantly. When the track opens, a guitar plays the introduction, with a buzzing bass, slow drums and keyboards quickly joining in. This version, the original, sees the song slowed down, space being left within the arrangement allowing the music to breathe. On Lifetime, the song is much quicker, with a saxophone playing the introduction. There’s quite a difference between the two versions, but the song suits both a slow or fast arrangement. Then when Terry sings the lyrics about love, his voice is gentle and thoughtful, lush strings sweeping behind him, while guitars, rhythm section, keyboards and horns combine. Again, swooning and joyous backing vocalists unite, the perfect accompaniment to Terry’s vocal which is now louder and full of passion. As the song progresses, both Terry’s vocal and the arrangement just gets so much better. The arrangement features some great interplay between the rhythm section, guitars and horns, when Terry’s vocal drops out. However, one thing that really makes this such a great song are the lyrics, written by Terry and Larry Wade. They’re some of the best on the album, and Terry delivers them beautifully, with a combination of tenderness, passion and power. Together with a rich, joyful sounding arrangement, it’s the best track on the album, and my favorite version of the track.
When Street Fever opens, the track has a very different sound to the two preceding tracks. The track is fusion of styles and influences, with soul, funk and rock all influencing the sound. When the track opens, guitars chime and soar, repetitively, before heading off in the direction of funk with a sprinkling of rock, with Terry’s voice louder, nearly roaring, against a backdrop of dramatic, slightly dark and angry guitars and rhythm section. However, quickly, the track changes turning into a much more soulful, sweeping sound, only to return to whence it came. This veering between two styles works, and is an interesting and intriguing contrast. Terry’s almost snarling vocal is a departure from what we’ve come to expect. Here his frustration and maybe even anger, suits the lyrics. They’re about a woman whose addicted to drugs, and whose life is quickly is unravelling. Although very different from other tracks on the album, this rockier delivery of the lyrics, and faster, dramatic arrangement, works really well and suits the story behind the lyrics.
After the departure into a very different musical territory for Terry, things return to a sound that’s much more like the Terry Callier most people will know. Butterfly is a lovely, slow and tender song, with a much more understated and lush arrangement. The track opens with a floaty sound, thanks to a synth, acoustic guitar and piano combining before Terry’s tender and considered vocal enters. He sings the song thoughtfully, as the arrangement meanders slowly along, with splashes of piano, lush, subtle strings, a gentle bass and chiming guitars. Subtle, brief bursts of rasping horns, interject while gently, reverberating strings slowly unwind, accompanying Terry as the song ends. This is quite simply a beautiful song, full of symbolism, about someone who like a butterfly, needs to spread their wings and fly away from the city. It’s a sentiment many people will be able to relate to, and this quite gorgeous and tender and thoughtful song is one of the album’s highlights.
Like other tracks on this album, I’ve Been Doin’ Alright (Part II) (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright) opens with the familiar sound of Terry gently strumming his trusty acoustic guitar. After that, the rhythm section, distant strings, brief bursts of horns, guitars and piano all join in, accompanying Terry. His voice soars high, soulfully, as a deeply melodic arrangement unfolds. Backing vocalists sweetly sing, while a piano, bursts of horns, driving rhythm section and chiming guitars combine masterfully, creating an arrangement that swings along, with a fuller, hugely melodic and catchy sound. This is the perfect backdrop for Terry’s vocal, which is emotive, full of passion, yet considered, as he confidently predicts things will turn out fine. Both this swinging, uplifting arrangement and Terry’s quite beautiful vocal combine to make this a joyous sounding, catchy track.
When I see the word disco in a track by an artist like Terry, I always fear the worst. Thankfully, this time, I needn’t have worried, but back in 1977, many artists like Terry were suffering because of the popularity of disco. Bobby Womack and Jerry Butler were two artists whose popularity was badly affected. Some artists went disco, but thankfully, Terry resisted the temptation. Instead, he purloined the word disco for the track’s title. A combination of gently plucked acoustic guitar, rasping, soaring horn open the track before Terry sings, his vocal starting off quietly, before quickly growing stronger and louder. Meanwhile, a fast, funk laden bass, grand, Philadelphia influenced strings, beefy drums and chiming guitars combine, as the tempo quickens. Backing vocalist interject, their voices soaring high, in contrast to Terry’s louder, fuller vocal, while the arrangement veers between a quicker and almost pedestrian tempo, providing another musical contrast. As the song ends, I realize how different in sound and style it is to the rest of the album. Unlike other artists who used the word disco to gain the attraction of record buyers, Terry has pulled it off. Although it isn’t vintage Terry Callier, it’s far from being a poor track. The vocal and arrangement work well, with the quicker tempo suiting the lyrics, and demonstrating Terry’s versatility as a vocalist.
African Violet is the polar opposite of Disco In the Sky, and is a much more thoughtful track, with a quite spiritual sound. Acoustic guitar, woodwind, and percussion combine subtly before Terry’s equally subtle and gentle vocal enters. The tempo is slow, the arrangement meandering along, when Terry’s voice drops deeper, only to quickly grows in strength, as does the arrangement. It grows to a dramatic sound, with grand, sweeping strings, percussion, rhythm section and chiming, shimmering guitars combining. A horn sweetly and melodically, sweeps over the arrangement, while a dark, moody bass and keyboards accompany Terry’s voice which is drenched in power, passion as he sings some hugely powerful and moving lyrics, about the hardships and injustices suffered by both the African and Afro-American people throughout history. Like Holding On (To Your Love), African Violet features some of the best lyrics on the album. Together with an arrangement that’s a combination of subtly and drama, and a moving and powerful vocal from Terry, this is an excellent track.
A lovely lush sound opens Love Two Love, which features Minnie Riperton on backing vocals, singing quite beautifully. The track opens with the lushest of strings, and Minnie’s voice soaring sweetly, before a tender and thoughtful vocal from Terry enters. He’s accompanied by the rhythm section, chiming guitars and keyboards, which together with the strings, combine beautifully, producing a faster arrangement. It’s one of the best sounding arrangements on the album, made all the better by Terry’s considered and emotive delivery of the lyrics about love and being in love. Here, the addition of Minnie on backing vocals is a masterstroke, her unmistakable voice gracing the track wonderfully, helping make this such a beautiful sounding track.
Fire On Ice closes with Martin St Martin, a tribute to the great Dr. Martin Luther King. Here, Terry provides a fitting tribute to one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. Fittingly, the track has a dramatic, sometimes almost grandiose sound, thanks to the addition of a choir. This seems a fitting sound for a giant of a man, who did so much, for so many. Bells chime as the track opens, before the young choir enter, singing angelically. It’s only when guitars combine with the bells and choir, that Terry’s vocal enters. His vocal is slow at first, full of passion and emotion, but quickly, accompanied by the rhythm section, grand sweeping strings and guitars Terry’s voice quickens. Throughout the track, the tempo, like the drama, rises and falls. Peaks and troughs of powerful music unfold, as Terry sings some beautiful, thoughtful and powerful lyrics he cowrote with Larry Wade. They’re a fitting, quite beautiful tribute to a great man, sung with power and passion by Terry. This seems like a fitting and perfect way to end the album, with powerful, waves of sweeping, joyful music unfolding, giving thanks to the late, great Dr. King.
For many years I’ve loved the music on Fire and Ice. The music Terry recorded on Elektra was quite different from the music he recorded on Cadet. Many people believe his Cadet years produced some of his best work, but the two albums he produced for Elektra are very different in sound and style, and have much to commend them. On Fire and Ice, Terry delivers nine songs with his usual combination of thoughtfulness, emotion and passion. He brings the lyrics to life, through the emotion he expounds, choosing the perfect delivery for each song. Some songs see him sing gently and thoughtfully, others powerfully with passion. Regardless of the style he uses, you can always be assured he gives everything he has on each song. Fire and Ice features some great songs written by Terry or with Larry Wade, with whom he cowrote some of his best songs. Here, they include the Holding On (To Your Love), Street Fever and the hugely powerful Martin St. Martin. Of the songs Terry wrote himself, Be A Believer, Butterfly and African Violet demonstrate Terry’s huge talents as a songwriter. These three songs feature some beautiful, thoughtful and intelligent lyrics. Terry was joined on the album by a number of well known artists, including Minnie Riperton, whose backing vocals on Love Two Love play a huge part in the track’s success. Apart from Minnie, Cynthia Wright, Philip Upchurch, Eddie Harris and Larry Wade are just a few of the guest artists. All of them play their part in helping Terry make this such a great album. If you’ve never heard Fire and Ice, I can thoroughly recommend the album. If you’d like to just hear an introduction to Terry’s music, About Time: The Terry Callier Story 1965-1982 on BGP gives an overview of his career on both Cadet and Elektra, while Essential, The Very Best of, features all the music he recorded on Cadet. Regardless of which you choose, and there’s plenty of albums to choose from, I’m sure you’ll quickly become a huge fan of Terry Callier, a brilliant singer, songwriter and musician. Standout Tracks: Be A Believer, Holding On (To Your Love), African Violet and Love To Love.
TERRY CALLIER-FIRE ON ICE.