Recently when I was reviewing a new Salsoul Records compilation, The Salsoul Records Story, which was recently released by Gold Legion, I was pleased to discover that the compilers had included Gary Criss’ Rio De Janeiro. This was the title-track to the only album Gary Criss released on Salsoul Records. Rio De Janeiro was released on Salsoul in 1978 and was produced by John Davis. The Latin-tinged title-track Rio De Janeiro gave Gary the biggest hit of his career. It was a huge commercial success and a smash hit in clubs. Since then, Rio De Janeiro has become a timeless classic. Sadly, his only solo album Rio De Janeiro is often overlooked by reissue labels. Hopefully, soon a reissue label will rerelease Gary Criss’ Rio De Janeiro, which represents Gary Criss solo career. Although Gary spent much of the eighties involved in the music industry, he decided to pursue another career. This you’ll realize was the music industry’s loss, when I tell you about Rio De Janeiro.

Before signing to Salsoul, New Brunswick born Gary Criss released several singles, including Sweet, Warm and Soft in 1963. It was released on Diamond Records in 1963. After that, he joined the seventies pop group The Glass Bottle. They released one album, I Ain’t Got Time Anymore in 1972, on AVCO Embassy. SIx years later, in 1978, Gary was signed to Salsoul.

at Salsoul, Gary would work with experienced producer John Davis, who contributed Brazilian Nights to Gary’s debut album Rio De Janeiro. Gary wrote Amazon Queen, while Rio De Janeiro featured Billy Terrell’s Rio De Janeiro and The Calm Before The Storm. Along with Ray Dahrouge’s The Lady Is Latin (The Girl Is Bad), Jimmy Druiett’s My Lady and a cover of The Girl From Ipanema, these seven tracks became Rio De Janeiro. Accompanying Gary for the recording of Rio De Janeiro, would be members of John Davis and The Monster Orchestra.

When recording of Rio De Janeiro began, the rhythm section included guitarist Craig Snyder, bassist Vince Fay and drummers Grant MacAvoy and Jimmy Young. They were joined by percussionists Larry Washington, Nick D’Amico and David Waker. Taking charge of strings and horns was Don Renaldo. John Davis played flute and keyboards. Adding vocals were Carolyn Mitchel and Vaneese Thomas-White, daughter of Rufus Thomas. Once Rio De Janeiro was recorded, it was released in 1978.

On the release of Rio De Janeiro in 1978 it wasn’t a commercial success, failing to chart. When the title-track Rio De Janeiro was released as a single, it reached number six in the Dance Music/Club Play Charts. Rio De Janeiro became a huge hit, commercially successful and on constant play in clubs. However, should the album Rio De Janeiro have matched the commercial success of the single Rio De Janeiro? That’s what I’ll now tell you?

Opening Rio De Janeiro is Rio De Janeiro. A pounding disco beat, chiming guitars and percussion joins blazing horns and sweeping, swirling strings. This signals the arrival of the sweetest harmonies who sweep elegantly across the arrangement. They’re joined by Gary’s tender, impassioned vocal. Strings float above the arrangement, while the rhythm section add its pulsating heartbeat. Horns and percussion add to the joyous, uplifting sound, while rocky guitars add a touch of drama. By now a delicious fusion of disco, soul, funk and Latin music have been seamlessly combined and transported you to Rio De Janeiro. Quite simply, this is a truly timeless track and real hidden gem in Salsoul’s back-catalogue.

A near nine-minute medley of The Girl From Ipanema and Brazilian Nights. Just a myriad of percussion creates a Latin backdrop before Gary’s sensually scats and the arrangement unfolds. Gradually, horns growl, while the rhythm section, percussion and keyboards provide the mainstay of the Latin arrangement. Gary lounge-style vocal is understated, but ensures the songs swings. He’s accompanied by gentle, cooing harmonies who prove a perfect foil for Gary. Behind him, strings dance, horns kick and the band kick loose as they head into Brazilian Nights. Again, Gary’s vocal is heartfelt, but grows in power and passion. He’s accompanied by swathes of lush strings, subtle harmonies and percussion. The longer the track progresses, the better it gets. Gary accompanied by John Davis and The Monster Orchestra drive each other to greater heights, as they fuse musical genres to create a beautiful, dramatic and dance-floor friendly track. 

Amazon Queen closes Side One of Rio De Janeiro. It’s the only track on Rio De Janeiro written by Gary Criss. Synths, percussion and the rhythm section create a tougher, funkier sound. Soon, blazing horns have strode centre-stage and are adding to the drama. When Gary and his backing vocalists enter, they prove to be the perfect foil for each other. Gary’s vocal mixes drama and power, which is reflected by the harmonies. They’re joined by layers of strings which sweep and swirl. It’s as if they dance with joy and appreciation at this Latin-tinged track. Like the horns and percussion, the strings are key to the track’s success. Add in Gary’s vocal and the harmonies, and the result is one of the highlights of Rio De Janeiro.

Side Two of Rio De Janeiro opens with The Lady Is Latin (The Girl Is Bad), which was written by Ray Dahrouge. Although only four minutes long, it’s four highly memorable minutes where Gary Criss ably assisted by John Davis and The Monster Orchestra start Side Two where SIde One left off. 

My Rio Lady is not unlike a slice of musical sunshine when it joyously bursts into life. It brightens your life from its opening bars. With swathes of the lushest strings, percussion and a pulsating rhythm section for company, Gary delivers his best vocal on Rio De Janeiro. His vocal is filled with emotion and sincerity. Making a great track even better are the growling horns and dancing horns. They provide the backdrop for Gary as he delivers a truly soul-baring vocal.

The Calm Before The Storm closes Rio De Janeiro. It was written by Billy Terrell  and in the hands of Gary Criss and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra is transformed into something very special. With the trademark percussive sound joining the tightest of rhythm sections and strings and horns courtesy of Don Renaldo, it’s almost impossible that Gary doesn’t close Rio De Janeiro on a high. It’s as if he’s taking his lead from the band and unleashes an almost peerless vocal, closing Rio De Janeiro on a memorable high.

Although Gary Criss only released one solo album, Rio De Janeiro was an almost flawless album. It fused elements of disco, funk, jazz, soul and Latin music over six tracks. Gary proves to be a talented vocalist who producer John Davis gets the best out of. Salsoul couldn’t have picked a better mentor for Gary. Not only from a production point of view, but from the musicians John brought to the recording of Rio De Janeiro. Rather than use The Salsoul Orchestra, John decided to use John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. They provide the backdrop for John’s hugely soulful vocals, creating six arrangements where disco and Latin music are married with jazz and funk. The result album Rio De Janeiro, is an album that has stood the test of time. indeed, Rio De Janeiro is a truly timeless album, which is worthy of being reissued. Maybe sometime soon Gary Criss only solo album Rio De Janeiro will be reissued thirty-five years after its release. Let’s hope so. Standout Tracks: Rio De Janeiro, The Girl From Ipanema and Brazilian Nights, Amazon Queen and My Rio Lady.


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