BARBARA MASON-TRANSITION.

BARBARA MASON-TRANSITION.

When Barbara Mason signed to Buddah Records in 1973, she was already an experienced artist. Indeed, Philly born Barbara, released her debut single Trouble Child in 1964, on Crusader Records. Then in 1965, aged just eighteen, Barbara enjoyed the biggest single of her career, the classic, Yes, I’m Ready, which reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Later in 1965, Barbara released her debut album Yes, I’m Ready, on Arctic Records. It reached number 129 in the US Billboard 200. Her 1968 sophomore album Oh How It Hurts reached just number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. Having switched labels to National General, If You Knew Him released in 1970, failed to chart. Then in 1973, Barbara’s career received a boost, when she signed to Buddah Records, where she released four albums between 1973 and 1975.

1973s Give Me Your Love was Barbara Mason’s first album for Buddah Records. It saw Barbara hookup with M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band. They provided the backdrop for what was Barbara’s most successful album on Buddah Records. It reached number ninety-five in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts, and featured another classic track Bed and Board. A year later, and Barbara Mason returned with her second album for Buddah Records/

Lady Love followed in 1974. Again, M.F.S.B. accompanied Barbara, on an album that reached number twenty-nine in the US R&B Charts. This was slightly disappointing for Barbara. Maybe her third album for Buddah Records, 1974s Transition, would mark a change in fortune for Barbara Mason? Would that be the case, or would Transition mark a Transition in Barbara Mason’s career?

For what became Transition, Barbara wrote eight of the nine tracks. Just like her previous albums, Barbara’s lyrics were powerful, filled with social comment. The exception was Sunday Saint (Week Day Sinner), which Jerry Akines, Johnny Belmon, Reginald Turner and Victor Drayton penned. These nine tracks became Transition. Eight of the tracks were recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, where Barbara recorded Give Me Your Love and Lady Love. Only Sunday Saint (Week Day Sinner) was recorded elsewhere, at Philly’s Future Gold Studio. Accompanying Barbara, were many of the same personnel that featured on Give Me Your Love and Lady Love. This meant Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B.

Recording got underway at Sigma Sound Studios in 1974 with the cream of Philly’s musicians accompanying Babara on Transition. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They were joined by guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, keyboardist Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, percussionist Larry Washington and Vince Montana Jr, on vibes. Adding the trademark Philly Soul sound were familiar strains of Don Renaldo’s strings and horns grace Transition. The final piece in the jigsaw were the Sweethearts of Sigma, backing vocalists Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. This hugely talented group of musicians and singers would accompany Barbara on Transition. Arrangers included Norman Harris, Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Richard Rome. Once Transition was recorded, it was released later in 1974. Would Transition mark an improvement in Barbara Mason’s fortunes or prove to be a period of Transition in her career?

On the release of Transition in 1974, it proved to be Barbara’s least successful album on Buddah Records. It failed to chart. The three singles, World War Three, The Devil Is Busy and Half Sister, Half Brother all failed to chart. Considering Give Me Your Love and Lady Love had both proved popular, why did Transition fail to chart? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Transition.

Half Sister, Half Brother which opens Transition, was arranged by Norman Harris. Growling horns dramatically punctuate the arrangement while Baker, Harris, Young provide its heartbeat. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Norman Harris’ jazz-drenched guitar and Hammond organ combine. Then Barbara’s tender, breathy, sultry vocal enters. The Sweethearts of Sigma add sweeping harmonies, while Barbara’s vocal is filled with hurt and regret. Strings swirl and sweep, harmonies coo and a Hammond organ add to Norman Harris’ atmospheric, dramatic and emotive arrangement. It has Philly Soul written all over it. For her part, Barbara delivers a heartfelt, hurt-filled vocal, that demonstrates just why she was one of Philly Soul’s leading ladies.

Baker, Harris, Young and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar open World In A Crisis. This is a track where Barbara soulfully and sincerely delivers lyrics filled with social comment. The Sweethearts of Sigma answer her call, their harmonies sweeping in urgently and soulfully, reflecting Barbara’s concerns at A World In A Crisis.” Meanwhile, horns growl, drums pound, strings cascade and Bobby delivers some uber funky guitar licks. Adding a contrast is Vince Montana Jr, who subtly sprinkles his vibes. By then, Barbara is at her soulful best, delivering one of her most impassioned pleas, that’s just as relevant nearly forty years later.

From the get-go, The Devil Is Busy has a moody, dramatic and pulsating sound. This is thanks to Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s arrangement. Larry Washington’s percussion, keyboards, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and Baker, Harris, Young create a dramatic, moody arrangement. Funk, Philly Soul and Latin are fused. Barbara’s vocal is a mixture of power and passion, as she almost judgementally warns that: “The Devil Is Busy.” Meanwhile, Bobby “Electronic” Eli’ lays down some of his trademark wah-wah guitar, as Larry Washington and Vince Montana Jr, add a Latin influence. Urgent, soaring harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and male backing vocalists reflect the urgency, concern and sincerity in Barbara’s vocal.

People Don’t Believe closes Side One of Transition. As it unfolds, it has a much more understated, melodic sound. That’s just a curveball. As the rhythm section, Hammond organ and braying horns combine with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Barbara delivers a deliberate, frustrated vocal. She’s unhappy: “People Don’t Believe enough in my god for me,” angered that they place more faith in astrology. While Barbara vents her frustration and anger, the arrangement takes on a tougher sound than other tracks. Although still soulful, there’s a funkier sound, with Bobby “Electronic” Eli’ wah-wah guitar at the heart of the action. Fittingly, The Sweethearts of Sigma add ethereal, gospel-tinged, soaring harmonies. They provide a fitting foil for Barbara’s frustrated, angry and disapproving vocal, as she emotively delivers her lyrics.

Trigger Happy People opens Side Two of Transition. Drama, Philly Soul and funk combine. Again, it’s a song with a message, penned by Barbara. Baker, Harris, Young provide the arrangement’s pulsating heartbeat, while Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, keyboards and funky guitars set the scene for Barbara. Her emotive, vocal delivers a warning, again almost judgementally about: “Trigger Happy People,” and the consequences of guns, gun crime and violence. She sings with passion, concern and sincerity. Her voice The Sweethearts of Sigma add cooing, sweeping harmonies, while pounding drums add to the the drama of this powerful, poignant and soulful song, with an important social message.

Time Is Running Out was arranged by Richard Rome, who masterminded The Ritchie Family. The arrangement has a tougher, edgier and funkier sound. Keyboards, clavinet and the rhythm section combine with bursts of blazing horns. Pounding drums accompany Barbara’s sassy, strident vocal. She struts her way through the track, confidently and assuredly. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and Don Renaldo’s growling horns play important and contrasting roles, but it’s Barbara who takes centre-stage, delivering one of her most assured performances.

Miracle Man sees Philly Soul and funk combine peerlessly. At the heart of the action are Baker, Harris, Young who provide a dramatic, pounding beat. Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar adds the necessary funk. The Sweethearts of Sigma give a masterclass in soulful harmonies. Don Renaldo’s horns growl and kick, matching Earl Young’s drums note for note. Spurred on, Barbara delivers one of her best vocals. Soulful, heartfelt and sincere, it’s also beautiful and filled with emotion.

I Believe and Have Not Seen is the last of the eight songs on Transition Barbara wrote. It’s also one of the best. It sees the tempo drop and Barbara deliver one of her tenderest and most beautiful vocals. Soulful doesn’t even come close to describe it. The arrangement ebbs and flows, piano, rhythm section and swathes of the lushest strings uniting. Accompanying Barbara are The Sweethearts of Sigma, whose elegant, tender harmonies cascade. With lush strings, rasping horns, percussion and cooing harmonies, drama, beauty and emotion combine, as Barbara delivers a peerless vocal.

Sunday Saint (Week Day Sinner) closes Transition. It was the only song Barbara didn’t write. Having said that, there’s no drop in quality. This track has a gospel influence. The Sweethearts of Sigma add testifying harmonies, while Barbara delivers a powerful, punchy and assured vocal. A male vocalists gives thanks, hollering “amen.” Behind her, the band add a dramatic, pounding arrangement, as Barbara and The Sweethearts of Sigma fuse Philly Soul and gospel, to bring Transition to a stomping, rousing close.

Transition was aptly named. The music on Transition marked a change in Barbara Mason’s music. Granted Barbara’s music was still a fusion of Philly Soul and funk, filled with social comment. There was a shift towards gospel, on tracks like The Devil Is Busy, People Don’t Believe and Time Is Running Out. World In A Crisis and Trigger Happy People, are laden with social comment and see Barbara commenting on the world’s problems. Some of the tracks have a tougher sound, especially on, The Devil Is Busy and Time Is Running, which features a clavinet. One thing doesn’t change, Barbara’s delivery. She becomes Philly Soul’s conscience. Regardless of whether it’s gospel, Philly Soul or funk, Barbara delivers each song with either passion, emotion, sincerity and urgency. Always she’s soulful. Playing a vital role are The Sweethearts of Sigma. Their harmonies are a perfect foil for Barbara, and were ying to Barbara’s yang. With members of M.F.S.B. providing the backdrop for Barbara Mason’s vocals on Transition, it’s an album that should’ve been a commercial success. Sadly it wasn’t.

Transition was the least successful album of Barbara Mason’s career at Buddah Records. Not only did Transition fail to chart, but the three singles failed to chart. It seemed after a promising start to Barbara’s career at Buddah, her career had stalled. That was  a great shame, as Transition is a truly underrated album. Elements of Philly Soul, funk, gospel and jazz unite, combine on Transition, where Philly’s finest musicians and backing vocalists accompany Barbara Mason.  Sadly, despite the quality of this genre-meleting album, it failed to match the commercial success of Barbara Mason’s previous two albums. 

Maybe record buyers were put off by Transition’s gospel influence? This is most prominent on Sunday Saint (Week Day Sinner). It’s is very different to much of the music on  Barbara Mason’s previous two albums. However, the gospel influence can be heard throughout Transition. For many of Barbara Mason’s fans, this wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They weren’t comfortable with the gospel influence, and preferred the mixture of Philly Soul and R&B. This was a step too far on album that’s full of social comment. Meanwhile, fans of gospel music regarded Barbara Mason with suspicion. Wasn’t she a soul singer? Barbara Mason had not only alienated her fans, but failed to find an audience within the much smaller, gospel community. For Barbara Mason, this was a huge disappointment.

After all, 1973s Give Me Your Love had proved the most successful of Barbara’s career. It had reached number ninety-five in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts. 1974s Lady Love then reached number twenty-nine in the US R&B Charts. Following Transition, Barbara Mason’s career could end up going through a transitional phase. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

1975s Love’s The Thing saw Barbara Mason get her career back on track, reaching number 187 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. The title Transition describes what was happening to Barbara Mason’s career. Her music was changing, but like her two previous albums Give Me Your Love and Lady Love, Transition features Barbara Mason at her heartfelt, emotive and soulful best, as she becomes the conscience of Philly Soul.

BARBARA MASON-TRANSITION.

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