By the time Jean Carn signed for Philadelphia International Records in 1976, she’d been involved in the music business since the late sixties. After studying at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, Jean became know as a hugely versatile vocalists, with a five octave range and the ability to sing in a variety of styles. She’d planned to continue her musical education in New York, at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, but met Doug Carn, a jazz pianists. Jean became the vocalist for Doug’s jazz fusion band, before she featured on three of Doug’s albums on Black Jazz Records. These were 1971s’ Infant Eyes, Spirit of the Land released in 1972 and 1973s’ Revelation. Jean’s vocal brought her to the attention of both jazz fans, and a band that was about to record their debut album Earth, Wind and Fire.

Not long after the release of 1971s’ Infant Eyes, Jean had come to the attention of Earth Wind and Fire who were about to record their debut album Earth Wind and Fire. Hooking up with Earth Wind and Fire allowed Jean to demonstrate her versatility as a vocalist,because previously, she’d just sung jazz music. So, Jean became a member of the group for their first two albums on Warner Bros. Their debut album Earth Wind and Fire released in 1971, reached number 172 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-four in the US R&B Charts. Their second album, also released in 1971, The Need of Love reached number eighty-nine in the US R&B Charts and thirty-five in the US R&B Charts. However, Jean wasn’t credited as a member of the group.

In 1975, Jean became the vocalist for Norman Connors, featuring with Michael Henderson on the 1975 hit single Valentine Love. Coincidentally,  another Philadelphia International Records vocalist Phillis Hyman was another featured vocalist for Norman Connors. The following year, 1976, saw Jean sign for Philadelphia International, where she would record four albums.

Jean’s debut album on Philadelphia International was entitled Jean Carn, and released in 1977. When it was released, the album reached number twenty-four in the US R&B Charts. This album was produced by Gamble and Huff, and featured Jean singing a combination of soul and jazz tracks. When Free Love was released as a single, it fared well, reaching number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts.

The following year, in June 1978, her follow-up album Happy To Be With You was released. It featured the brilliant track Don’t Let It Go To Your Head, which was released as a single. Amazingly, it didn’t do as well as her debut single for Philadelphia International, only reaching number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts.

This was followed by 1979s’ When I Find You Love. Her fourth and final album for Philadelphia International, was Sweet and Wonderful, which was released on the subsidiary TSOP label, in 1981. After five years, Jean decided to leave Philadelphia International, heading to another of soul music’s great labels, Motown.

Having left Philadelphia International, Jean signed to Motown, where she released Trust Me In 1982. This was the only album she released on Motown, and the only album she released until 1986s’Closer Than Close in 1986. After that, Jean released three further albums including You’re A Part of Me in 1988, which was released on Atlantic Records. Seven years later, Jean released two further albums, Carne Sings McCoy and Closer Than Close. Since then, Jean hasn’t released any further albums. However, the album this article is Jean’s debut album, Jean Carn, which I’ll now tell you about.

Jean Carn opens with the Gamble and Huff penned Free Love, which was released as single, reaching number twenty-four in the US R&B Charts. When the first staccato notes of Free Love bursts brightly from your speakers, it’s apparent Gamble and Huff foresaw Jean as Queen of the dance-floors. A combination of punchy rhythm section, soaring, chiming guitars and percussion quickly lock into a groove to accompany Jean’s charismatic vocal, before sweeping, swirling strings enter. From there, the track sweeps quickly, with blazing horns and drums dramatically punctuating the track, When Jean’s voice softens, she’s joined by sweet, brief bursts of backing vocalists. Together with rest of the catchy, mostly lush sounding arrangement, this brilliant and timeless dance track is the perfect way to open the album. One thing though, why didn’t it do much better when released as a single?

The tempo and style changes on No Laughing Matter, which is a lovely ballad, that allows Jean to demonstrate her versatility as a vocalist. Very different is Jack Faith’s arrangement, which has a lovely understated quality, with lovely, lush strings, percussion and piano at the heart of it’s beauty. Later, horns gently and subtly, interject, combining with the rhythm section and adding to an already beautiful arrangement. Meanwhile, Jean’s vocal is thoughtful and gentle, her phrasing perfect as she sings another Gamble and Huff penned track. Here, the lyrics are a mixture of sadness and joy. The joy is when Jean sings about being in love and how precious life is, and the sadness come when she sings about having a bad start in life. When Jack Faith’s arrangement is combined with Jean’s vocal, the result is stunning, a beautiful and hugely moving song, featuring a beautiful vocal and arrangement.

I’m In Love Once Again has a spacious and dramatic introduction, with a harp, percussion, drums and brief bursts of horns combining, slowly and gently, before after a dramatic burst of drums, Jean’s high and thoughtful vocal enters. She’s accompanied by a gentle piano, rhythm section, grand, sweeping strings and guitars. Like the opening track, the arrangement is punctuated by dramatic bursts of drums and strings. This is one of these tracks that the longer it goes on, the better the arrangement gets. It seems to take a couple of minutes before the track really opens out and reveals it’s beauty. Much of the track’s success is down to Jean’s now powerful, emotive and passionate vocal which is accompanied by quicker, sweeping strings, rasping horns chiming guitars and the rhythm section. Towards the end, a prolonged piano solo, adds the finishing touches to what is a fine track, thanks to Jean’s power laden and passionate vocal, and a slow burner of an arrangement.

There’s a jazz influence present in Don’t You Know Love When You See It which features a dramatic arrangement from Bobby Martin. A wailing, atmospheric Hammond organ, dramatic braying horns, slow moody rhythm section and chiming guitars combine to produce an arrangement that has elements of soul and jazz present before a slow, considered vocal from Jean enters. Her voice soars powerfully, as she uses her five octave range to its full. Behind her, the arrangement has a dramatic, moody sound because of the slow tempo and the combination of instruments deployed. This includes rasping, wailing horns, sweeping strings, chiming, shimmering guitars and a slow, thoughtful rhythm section. Although very different from previous tracks, both Jean’s thoughtful and dynamic vocal and Bobby Martin’s slow, moody and atmospheric arrangement combine to produce a drama laden, but excellent track.

Where Did You Ever Go is the slowest track on the album, and is another ballad, written and produced by Dexter Wansel. The arrangement has a “big” melodramatic sound, with strings sweeping emotively and dramatically, while a piano adds a sense of drama. Jean meanwhile, gives a hugely emotional, dramatic performance, as she sings about being left alone by her lover. Dexter Wansel drops the strings in at just the right moment, ensuring they’re deployed at the most effective time. This really works, adding to the sadness and loss Jean sings about. Again, she uses her wide vocal to really get across the sadness of the lyrics. Unlike other tracks, the arrangement relies upon fewer instruments, and this less is more attitude works well, with the piano and strings combining beautifully with Jean’s emotive, drama laden vocal. 

The sound of waves breaking on a beach, seagulls, a boat’s horn and church bells open You Are All I Need. This gives way to a slow, dramatic lush strings, rasping horn and a quicker, rhythm section and percussion before a gentle, floaty vocal from Jean enters. Quickly, against a backdrop of atmospheric rasping horns, the lushest of sweeping strings and the rhythm section combine to produce an arrangement that veers between a quicker yet gentle flowing arrangement, to a jazz funk influenced sound when the rhythm section and horns get into a groove and are allowed to demonstrate their considerable talents. Sometimes however, the arrangement has a hesitancy, and the earlier flowing sound almost stumbles along, because of the latest change in tempo. Meanwhile, Jean’s vocal changes in style, ranging from a gentle, thoughtful style, to a much more powerful, passionate style, and even to a style that’s jazz tinged. However, my problem with this track is the constant changes in tempo and style. For me, it doesn’t quite work, and although not a poor track, it’s the weakest track on the album, which is a shame considering Jean’s great vocal.

Things get back on track with If You Wanna Go Back another of the Gamble and Huff penned tracks. This is one of the dance floor orientated songs on the album, and has long been a favorite of mine. From the opening bars of the track, you realize that it’s something special. Rhythm section, piano, quick, lush, sweeping strings combine to create a “bouncy,” joyous sound before Jean’s emotive, charismatic vocal enters. It matches the brilliance of the arrangement, which sweeps along beautifully, with the strings, piano and rhythm section, being joined by bright, bursts of joyful horns. Together with Jean’s vocal and Bobby Martin’s arrangement, you can trace house music’s lineage to tracks like this. Tracks like this had a huge influence on the sound on the nascent  house music of the eighties, because of their arrangements and vocals. Many house tracks “borrowed” heavily the sound of tracks like this with their use of piano, horns and strings and a female vocal atop the arrangement. However, much as I love house music, they were but pretenders to the throne, because Gamble and Huff, and arrangers like Bobby Martin could produce and arrange much better tracks, including this brilliant track.

Like the previous track, You Got A Problem is track written by Gamble and Huff, and arranged by Bobby Martin. Similarly to the previous track, they sprinkle their magic dust over this track, resulting in another joyous sounding slice of Philly Soul. A combination of blazing horns, fast sweeping strings, driving rhythm section and chiming guitars combine to produce a quick, joyful backdrop for Jean’s strong, soulful vocal. She’s accompanied by backing vocalists whose tight, sweet and soulful contributions are the perfect accompaniment to Jean’s fuller, passion laden vocal. Meanwhile, one of the best arrangements on the album is unfolding. The winning combination of sweeping strings, punchy, braying horns, piano, guitars and rhythm section that accompany Jean’s vocal help to produce one of the album’s best tracks, only surpassed by Free Love.

Jean Carn closes with Time Waits For No Man, and like the previous tracks has a bright, uplifting arrangement which sees strings, pounding rhythm section, bursts of horns and chiming guitars combine before Jean’s powerful and emotive vocal enters. During the track Jean displays her power and versatility as a vocalist, bring the lyrics to life, while behind her the arrangement is fast and fulsome, with the rhythm section driving the track along. Punchy horns interjects, while strings sweep and swirl and later, keyboards help fill the sound out. Like previous tracks, backing vocalists supplement Jean’s vocal, with their voices subtly enveloping her vocal. When all of this is combined with Jean’s vocal, the end result is a good track, although not quite of the standard of the previous track. That maybe is an unfair comparison, because You Got A Problem is an outstanding track. Maybe if the running order had been reversed, and this was the penultimate track, instead of the final track, I wouldn’t be drawing this comparison. However, Time Waits For No Man is a good track, and a good way to end what was an excellent debut album from Jean Carn.

As regular readers of this blog will have gathered, I’m a huge fan of Philadelphia International Records, and all the music Gamble and Huff released on that label. Their work with Jean Carn on her debut album features some wonderful music, especially the Free Love and You Got A Problem, two of the four tracks they cowrote on this album. On this album, some of the most talented people working at Philadelphia International all worked on the album. This included McFadden and Whitehead, Dexter Wansel who wrote and produced tracks on this album. Two people whose role in not just this album, but many of the albums on Philadelphia International are Bobby Martin and Jack Faith, who arranged a number of the tracks on this, and many other albums. Of course, without M.F.S.B. the legendary Philadelphia International house band this, and other, albums wouldn’t have sounded as good as they did. M.F.S.B featured some of the most talented musicians in Philadelphia, and on this album, they provided the perfect backdrop for Jean’s vocal. Although this was Jean’s debut solo album, it’s a really mature album. By 1977, she was an experienced and versatile vocalist, blessed with a five octave range. On Jean Carn, she used that voice magnificently, singing songs with a combination of tenderness and power, bringing to life the stories behind the nine songs. Why the album didn’t do better, always puzzles me. It only reached number twenty-four in the US R&B Charts. An album with such great music on it deserved to do much better. Thankfully, the album was rereleased in 2004, on Demon Music Group together with Jean’s second album Happy To Be With You. This allows either those who missed the album originally, or were too young back in 1977, to hear the first two albums from the hugely talented Jean Carn. Standout Tracks: Free Love, No Laughing Matter,  If You Wanna Go Back and You Got A Problem.


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