It was back in 2010 that Harmless Records released the first of the Backbeats’ series. Since then, Backbeats had grown to become the world’s most popular budget series. Now there are forty-two compilations in the series,plus ten artists specific compilations. They’ve come a long way. However, several things have been crucial to the seemingly never-ending rise in popularity of the Backbeats’ series. This includes compilations complied by some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic crate-diggers in music. They’ve delved into archives of legendary labels, including Philadelphia International Records, Kudu, CTi, Hi, Scepter, Wand, Epic, Hot Wax, Invictus and Columbia. The result has been compilations of every genre of soul, including Philly Soul, Northern Soul, Modern Soul or Southern Soul. There’s also been compilations of disco, US Garage, house, jazz-funk and funk. Every musical taste has been catered for, and this continues to be the case. So too has every budget. Priced at just £5, $7.50 or €8, the Backbeats series represents quality at a bargain price. Soon, the next six installments of the Backbeats series will be released.

On 25th March 2013, Backbeats’ fans head on a soulful journey through Modern, Contemporary, Detroit, Crossover and Northern Soul. The final stop on this journey is Lay Back and Chill, More Superior Sensuous Soul, compiled by Ralph Tee. Lay Back and Chill features nineteen sensual slices of smooth soulfulness, from some of the biggest names in soul music. This includes Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick, Lou Courtney, Esther Phillips, Lou Rawls, Earth, Wind and Fire, Gladys Knight and The Pips and The Isley Brothers. There’s also welcome contributions from Glenn Jones, Linda Williams, The Dynamics and Phyllis Hyman. For anyone who likes their soul music laid-back, romantic and more than a little sensual, then this is for you, as you’ll realize when I tell you about some of the many highlights of Lay Back and Chill.

Lay Back and Chill is certainly not short of big names. Quite the opposite. Proof of this is Luther Vandross’ Once You Know How, which opens Lay Back and Chill. This is a track from Luther’s 1982 sophomore album Forever, For Always, For Love. Written and produced by Luther, this beautiful, understated track features a heartfelt, needy vocal. It demonstrated the direction his music would take. Soon, he’d become one of the most successful and influential artists of the eighties. This track is a tantalizing taste of one of the eighties great soul singers as his solo career unfolds.

Although Dionne Warwick’s 1980 album No Night So Long failed to replicate the success of the platinum Dionne, it was album that contained several hidden gems. We Never Said Goodbye is one of these. Produced by Steve Buckingham, it features one of Dionne’s best vocals. She sings call and response with her backing vocalists. They drive each other to greater heights of emotion, as sadness and regret are ever-present.

I’ve always felt that Patti Austin was one of the most underrated vocalists of her generation. She should’ve enjoyed much more commercial success than she did. Say You Love Me opened Patti’s 1976 debut album End Of A Rainbow, which was released on CTi Records features Patti at her best. Accompanied by an all-star band and produced by Creed Taylor, Say You Love Me features Patti delivering a vocal Magnus Opus. One minute it’s tender and deliberate, the next tinged with heartache, hurt and feeling. Quite simply, this is the perfect introduction to one of music’s most underrated artists.

Put simply, Esther Phillips is one of music’s best kept secrets. Having started her career as Little Esther Phillips, Esther released several critically acclaimed albums for CTi Records. Among her best albums are 1971s From A Whisper To A Scream, 1972s Alone Again, Naturally and 1973s Black-Eyed Blues. Like so many artists, she didn’t enjoy the commercial success her talent deserved. That talent is apparent from the opening bars of the Carole King penned Brother, Brother. It’s best described as an atmospheric and emotive, fusion of jazz, soul and gospel tinged harmonies. Absolutely spine-tingling, describes Esther’s performance.

during his career, Lou Rawls recorded over seventy-five albums and won three Grammy Awards.  Ain’t That Love Baby. By 1982, Lou was signed to Epic and released Now Is The Time. Thom Bell produced four tracks, including Ain’t That Love, Baby. Smooth, soulful and assured describes Lou’s performance. So does sensual, needy and pleading. With a typical Thom Bell arrangement accompanying him, Lou rolls back the years. The result is soul that’s smooth, sensual and peerless.

Earth, Wind and Fire were a group who enjoyed success during two decades. Between 1973 and 1987, they released eleven albums. Three were certified gold, three platinum, two double-platinum and two triple-platinum. Their third album Last Days and Time, released in 1972, was the precursor to this critical acclaim and commercial success. It featured They Don’t See, which was written by Maurice White and Earth, Wind and Fire. Soulful, jazzy and tinged in drama describes the arrangement, while Maurice’s vocal is tender, impassioned and delivered with emotion. Add in some of their trademark harmonies, the lushest of strings and cascading guitars and you realize just why huge commercial success was just round the corner for Earth, Wind and Fire.

Philly born Phyllis Hyman released just ten albums during her twenty-one year recording career. Her 1978 sophomore album Sing A Song,was released on Buddah Records. It was her only album that failed to chart. One of the album’s highlights was Gonna Make Changes, which Phyllis wrote. Not only does Phyllis deliver one of her best vocals on the album, mixing power, passion and emotion, but demonstrates just how talented a songwriter she was.

Looking back, it’s remarkable that Gladys Knight and The Pips were allowed to leave Motown to sign to Buddah Records. After all, Gladys was the only rival and heir to Diana Ross’ crown as Motown’s leading Lady. It was lucky for Gladys she did leave Motown. She enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim at Buddah. This included three gold discs and two number one US R&B albums, including Claudine-The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. It was produced by Curtis Mayfield, reached number one in the US R&B Charts and was certified gold. One of the best tracks was The Makings Of You. With an understated arrangement where swathes of lush strings, keyboards and chiming guitars are at its hear, Gladys delivers a soul-baring vocal. It’s laden with sheer emotion as she brings life, meaning and beauty into the lyrics.

Most people will remember Chapter 8 as the band that helped launch Anita Baker’s career. Anita joined the band in 1975, who also included Michael J. Powell. He’d become Anita’s producer, when she embarked upon her solo career. They released their debut albumChapter 8 in 1979, on Ariola. Two R&B singles were released from Chapter 8, I Wanna Be Your Girl and Ready For Your Love. Why We Need Love wasn’t released as a single seems a real missed opportunity, given how powerful, moving and beautiful a track it is.

My final choice from Lay Back and Chill is The Isley Brothers’ I Once Had Your Love (and Can’t Let Go). This is a track from 1981s Grand Slam, which was certified gold. This was their ninth consecutive album to certified gold, platinum or double-platinum. Like Earth, Wind and Fire, The Isley Brothers enjoyed success over two decades. This is a much more understated, romantic sounding track. The arrangement and harmonies provide a complimentary backdrop for the tender, impassioned lead vocal. While very different to much of The Isley Brothers’ music during this period, it demonstrates their versatility. It also demonstrates why three of their albums were certified gold, four platinum and two double-platinum.

Earlier I said that Lay Back and Chill wasn’t short of big name artists. That’s very true. You don’t get much bigger than Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Earth, Wind and Fire, Gladys Knight and The Pips and The Isley Brothers. As if that’s not enough, there’s welcome appearances by Esther Phillips, Patti Austin, Phyllis Hyman and Tower of Power. Hidden gems include Chapter 8’s We Need Love and a previously unreleased version of Angela Bofil’s Love Light. Then there’s contributions from Lou Courtney and Linda Williams. Truly, there isn’t a bad track on Lay Back and Chill. So, compiler Ralph Tee deserves credit for putting together such a complete collection. He’s dug deep into his record collection, resulting in  a compelling and beautiful selection of smooth, sensuous and soulful songs. This sets the bar high for the other five Backbeats compilations.

Lay Back and Chill is a perfect description of what this compilation is all about. You just put on Lay Back and Chill, then let this beautiful, emotive, romantic selection of tracks take you on a journey that’s soulful and jazz-tinged. It’s a journey I’d recommend to anyone who likes their soul music laid-back, seductive and sensuous. You too, will be able to embark on this journey on 25th March 2013, when Harmless Records release their next batch of the Backbeats’ series, including Lay Back and Chill. With music as good as is on Lay Back and Chill, it’s no wonder Backbeats has become the world’s most popular budget series. Standout Tracks: Esther Phillips Brother, Brother, Patti Austin Say You Love Me, Lou Rawls Ain’t That Love Baby and Gladys Knight and The Pips The Makings Of You.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: