MINNIE RIPERTON-COME TO MY GARDEN.

MINNIE RIPERTON-COME TO MY GARDEN.

Although I’ve previously written about Minnie Riperton’s music, with articles on Adventures In Paradise and Perfect Angel, I’ve as yet, to write about her debut solo album Come To My Garden. Today is an opportunity to revisit what was Minnie’s first album after leaving Rotary Connection. Come To My Garden saw her music change, transformed into something almost ethereal and quite beautiful, Gone was the soul-rock fusion sound that had been prevalent in Rotary Connection’s music. Replacing it was a sound that was a combination of soul, jazz and even pop music. On the album were some sumptuous, lush orchestral arrangements arranged by Minnie’s husband, producer Charles Stepney. These arrangements allowed Minnie’s voice to shine, and take centre-stage. Of the ten songs on the album, most are recorded in minor keys with wistful, melancholy ballads full of elegant, expressive lyrics that have a sensitivity and beauty when sung by Minnie. Eight of the album’s songs were written or co-written by Charles Stepney, with Richard Rudolph contributing five tracks. Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph collaborated on four tracks, one of which was the album’s best known songs, the incredible Les Fleurs. It was these ten songs that Minnie recorded at the Ter Mar Studios, in Chicago, where so many great artists had previously recorded.

Over a three day period between 24 and 26 April 1969, Minnie entered the Ter Mar Studios in Chicago, where artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Marlena Shaw had all previously recorded album. During this three day session, Charles Stepney arranged and conducted what was an all-star band. On drums was Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White. Guitarist Phil Upchurch had previously recorded with BB King, Jimmy Reed and as the Phillip Upuchurch Combo, sold over one million copies of the single You Can’t Sit Down, earning him a gold disc. Ramsey Lewis the jazz pianist, famous for the million selling singles The In Crowd, Wade In the Water and Hang On Sloopy played beautifully on the album. With a band that included such talented players, accompanying Minnie, the ten track were recorded and set for release the in 1970.

Minnie previewed some of the sings on Come To My Garden on 26 December 1969, at Chicago’s famous London House. She was introduced by Ramsey Lewis, who had played piano on Come To My Garden. During her performance, she previewed a number of the songs from her forthcoming debut solo album. Come To My Garden was released in April 1970, on the GRT label, to critical acclaim. However, even though the critics loved the album, it somehow, only reached number 160 in the US Billboard 200. This must have been a huge disappointment for Minnie and everyone concerned, given the quality of music on the album. As of this wasn’t disappointing enough, when Les Fleur was released as a single, it failed to chart. After the failure of Come To My Garden, Minnie headed to Gainesville, Florida where she entered semi-retirement, becoming a housewife and mother of two children. It would be four years before Minnie would record another album, Perfect Angel which reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, transforming her life and career. That was all still to come. Like Perfect Angel, Come To My Garden is a great album and it’s Come To My Garden that I’ll now tell you about.

Come To My Garden opens with probably the best known track on the album Les Fleur, written by Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph. When the track opens it’s a subtle combination of piano, guitars and rhythm section that accompanies Minnie’s ethereal vocal. Strings sweep in as the track grows in power and drama. Backing vocalists help grow the track’s sound, developing it into gorgeous dramatic soundscape that gradually, unveils itself. Rasping horns, the rhythm section and strings combine with the backing vocalists and Minnie’s sweet but powerful vocal as the song heads to its drama drenched, but sumptuous and near spiritual crescendo.

Completeness is a beautiful paean about love with Minnie’s five and a half octave vocal soaring high above Charles Stepney’s arrangement. Again, the song develops from a gentle, understated sound, with Minnie’s vocal soaring high, while shivering, shimmering strings, piano and rhythm section combine. As the song progresses, both arrangement and Minnie’s vocal and the arrangement grow. Blazing horns enter, while the piano, bass and strings are key to the arrangement’s success. Atop the arrangement sits Minnie’s emotive, passionate vocal. Later, Ramsey Lewis’ piano provides a perfect for accompaniment to Minnie’s powerful vocal. It adds drama, while the vocal glides elegantly above the arrangement. Both Minnie’s vocal and the arrangement combine beautifully, resulting in a heartachingly beautiful track.

Richard Rudolph wrote the title track Come To my Garden, which has a grand, dramatic piano lead introduction. It gives way to a beautiful, tender vocal from Minnie, whose phrasing is perfect, emphasizing the lyrics in such a way that she makes you aware of their beauty. After that, the arrangement unfolds, with strings joining Ramsey Lewis piano, that plays a key role in the arrangement. Space is left within the arrangement where strings shimmer, and a bass meanders, accompanying Minnie and then her backing vocalists. Wave upon wave of music slowly, reveals itself, spacious one minute, dramatic the next. The one constant is the gentle, ethereal quality of Minnie’s stunning, tender vocal as she almost breathlessly sings some gorgeous lyrics. Like it’s predecessor, it’s gorgeous track, and has always been one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Memory Band has a much more understated sound for much of the track, with Minnie’s vocal given the opportunity to shine. Against a backdrop of Phil Upchurch’s guitar Minnie tenderly sings the lyrics, with backing vocalists subtly accompanying her with punchy, sharp backing vocals. Later when the arrangement grows, it includes some lush strings, rasping horns and powerful rumbling drums, before giving way to a much more understated sound. Charles Stepney seems to know just when to grow the arrangement, then gradually return to the more understated sound. He takes care never to overpower Minnie’s gentle vocal as she sings Charles Stepney’s almost dreamlike lyrics. They’ve a poetic quality to them, that transport you to a journey deep into your imagination, especially when sung by Minnie against Charles Stepney’s cascading arrangement.

The final song on side one of Come To my Garden is Rainy Day In Centreville, another love song. Set against a backdrop of a rainy day, similar to when she met her partner, she reminisces about back then, and how now, they can’t live without each other. Like many of the songs on the album, the lyrics have a wistful, melancholy sound when sung by Minnie. When the track opens the arrangement has a full, slightly dramatic sound, with blazing horns key to this. Like the previous track, it gives way to a much more gentle, understated sound. This continues throughout the track, with the piano, bass strings and horns all playing important parts in the arrangement. Similarly, Minnie’s vocal veers between a tender style, to one where she’s able to demonstrate her power and five and a half octave range. However, she’s just as effective when she sings tenderly, resulting in a wistful, melancholy sound. Later in the track, there’s some clever interplay with the piano and horns, with the strings floating above a crescendo of drama builds and builds, giving way to Minnie’s powerful, yet ethereal and beautiful vocal. This was a masterstroke on Charles Stepney’s, resulting in a hugely, memorable and impressive ending to the song.

Side two of Come To my Garden opens with another of my favorite track Close Your Eyes and Remember, another Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph penned track. Against a harpsichord Minnie’s gentle vocal enters, with subtle, strings and backing vocalists accompanying her. A piano joins the strings, combining flourishes of piano and strings with bursts of rasping horns. This is one of the best arrangements on the album. It meanders along with strings floating high, combining with Minnie’s vocal as she sings the poetic lyrics about first love. Towards the end of the track, the arrangement becomes slightly dramatic, but not overdramatic. It’s just perfect, and concludes a quite beautiful, lush sounding track.

Oh, By the Way has some teasing, wistful lyrics from the Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph partnership. The arrangement is very different as the track opens, with flourishes of shimmering strings, booming drums accompanying Minnie’s vocal before the arrangement floats along. A piano, backing vocalists and drums play a vital part in the track, with occasional bursts of dramatic drums punctuating the track, as Minnie slowly reveals her love in the lyrics. Here, the tempo is quicker, the arrangement louder and fuller, with drama a constant companion to Minnie’s vocal. Although very different from previous tracks, both the arrangement and vocal keep up the quality of the preceding tracks.

On Expecting, Minnie gives one of her best vocals on the album. It’s combination of restrained power and her vocal range that lead to the emotion and ethereal beauty she displays here. Against an arrangement that soars, elegantly like her vocal, the effect and combination is breathtaking. When the track opens with Phil Upchurch and the backing vocalists accompanying Minnie there’s no indication of what will follow. It’s only when the rhythm section and strings combine, before giving way to Minnie and guitar, that you get a glimpse of what’s forthcoming. Thereafter, the track just gets so much better, with horns rasping, drums rumbling and Minnie’s glacial vocal floating elegantly above them all. By the end of this stunning track, it’s almost impossible not to be overwhelmed by the song’s innate beauty.

Only When I’m Dreaming opens with Minnie’s understated, tender vocal accompanied by a gentle combination of guitar and piano. Backing vocalists, piano and rhythm section join the arrangement as Minnie contemplates her love for her partner, and the way he makes her feel. As the arrangement unfolds, there’s some clever interplay between Minnie and her backing vocalists, while drums, brief bursts of rasping horns and lush strings play important roles in the track. Mostly, there’s an understated sound, but sometimes, you get the sense that the continued, brief bursts of drama that threaten, will develop. However, they never do, allowing Minnie’s tender vocal to dominate the track, with the arrangement helping her to shine.

Come To my Garden closes with Whenever, Wherever a song with a jazzy sound throughout. Lush strings, rhythm section and piano accompany Minnie as her vocal slowly and gently begins. The song floats along beautifully, before taking a detour into jazz territory, when Minnie’s vocal and the arrangement quickens. Drum and piano punctuate the quicker arrangement, with the sound growing in drama, but still has a floaty quality. When the backing vocalists enter, their delivery is quick, in short, sharp staccato bursts and combine perfectly with Minnie’s vocal. Later, the horns and piano take turns to dominate the sound, when Minnie’s vocal drops out, adding a sense of presence and drama to the track. When the arrangement and vocal are combined, they work well, with Minnie’s voice perfectly suited to the change in style, handling it with aplomb and energy. Although it’s a quite different jazz tinged song, it works well and is a good way to end what has been a stunning debut solo album from Minnie Riperton.

Since I started writing about music, it’s always amazed me how many great albums fail to be a commercial success when they’re released. When Come To my Garden was released, it was to critical acclaim. Critics welcomed the new sound of Minnie Riperton, one that was very different from the fusion and soul of Rotary Connection. In its place, it was replaced by lush, orchestral soundscapes, with Minnie’s ethereal, beautiful voice sitting above them. With musicians like Phil Upchurch, Ramsey Lewis and Maurice White backing Minnie and Charles Stepney producing the album,  a hugely talented group of people worked hard to make the album a success. With ten great songs, many of which were written by Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph, everything was set for a successful album. Sadly, on its release in April 1970, Come To my Garden peaked at number 160 on the US Billboard 200. Since then, the album has been called a masterpiece, which it is. Maybe the album was too sophisticated, with the orchestral soundscapes and Minnie’s glacial voice fusing perfectly. Regardless of the reasons, the album now is recognized as the musical masterpiece it truly is. Thankfully, four years later, Minnie’s second album Perfect Angel became a huge commercial success, with the American public recognizing albeit, belatedly, the beauty and brilliance of Minnie Riperton. However, the album that launched her solo career was Come To my Garden, a magical, musical masterpiece full of the lushest orchestral soundscapes, with the graceful, elegant and ethereal voice of Minnie Riperton taking centre-stage. Standout Tracks: Les Fleur, Completeness, Memory Band and Expecting.

MINNIE RIPERTON-COME TO MY GARDEN.

1 Comment

  1. Mike

    Minnie Riperton and Charles Stepney weren’t married or in any sort of romantic relationship.

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