DISCO RECHARGE: EVELYN THOMAS-I WANNA MAKE IT ON MY OWN AND HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME.

DISCO RECHARGE: EVELYN THOMAS-I WANNA MAKE IT ON MY OWN AND HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME.

On 1975, DJ and producer Ian Levine headed to America is search of artists he could record for his newly founded production company Voltafine. Ian’s idea was to record American soul singers, then lease the recordings to major labels His trip proved to be a fruitful one, when he discovered a twenty-two year-old former gospel singer Evelyn Thomas.  Born in the Windy City of Chicago, Evelyn was a versatile and talented singer, who with Ian Levine guiding her career, would enjoy a successful career during the seventies and eighties. Indeed, Ian Levine collaborated with Evelyn on the four albums she released between 1977 and 1979. Evelyn’s first two albums were 1978s and 1979s Have A Little Faith In Me. These two albums feature on the forthcoming Disco Recharge release Disco Recharge: Evelyn Thomas-I Wanna Make It On My Own and Have A Little Faith In Me, which will be released on 13th May 2013. Before I tell you about I Wanna Make It On My Own and Have A Little Faith In Me, I’ll tell you about the background to the albums.

Realising that he’d discovered a potential star, Ian Levine brought Evelyn Thomas to the UK, where they recorded several tracks. This resulted in Evelyn signing a recording contract with 20th Century Records. Evelyn’s 1976 debut single was Weak Spot, which Ian and Paul Wilson cowrote. On its release, it reached the top thirty in the UK. The followup was Doomsday, charted, but stalled in the lower reaches of the  UK Charts. Two further singles Love’s Just An Illusion and My Head’s In The Stars were released on 20th Century Records. With things going well for the Levine and Thomas partnership, contractual problems reared their ugly head.

Evelyn’s former manager alleged he still had her under contract. After paying $2,000 and enduring a hair-raising car journey with the former manager, the Ian Levine and Evelyn Thomas partnership was back together. This was just in time for Evelyn Thomas to sign one of disco’s biggest labels…Casablanca Records. It was on Casablanca Records where she released her debut album I Wanna Make It On My Own.

I WANNA MAKE IT ON MY OWN.

Although Evelyn had signed to Casablanca Records, she was still working with producer Ian Levine. He played a huge role on what became Evelyn Thomas’ 1978 debut album I Wanna Make It On My Own in 1978. For I Wanna Make It On My Own, Ian wrote three of the five songs. This included the title-track, It’s The Magic Of Your Touch and Look No Further. He cowrote Thanks For Being There with Pip Williams and Back To Reality with Fiachra Trench. Ian also arranged three tracks and produced I Wanna Make It On My Own, which was recorded at London’s SAM Studios.

When recording of I Wanna Make It On My Own got underway at SAM Studios, Ian Levine had put together a crack team of session musicians. The rhythm section included bassist Les Hurdle, drummer Clem Cattini and guitarists Pip Williams and Chris Rae. Alan Hawkshaw and Fiachra Trench played keyboards, while Mike Moran played keyboards and synths. Frank Ricotti added percussion, xylophone and vibes, Fiona Hibbert played harp, while a string, horn and woodwind section joined backing vocalists. The result was I Wanna Make It On My Own, an American disco album made in Britain.

On the release of I Wanna Make It On My Own in 1978, Evelyn Thomas’ debut album was well received by critics. It featured Ian Levine’s signature sound. This was disco interspersed with his beloved Northern Soul. However, I Wanna Make It On My Own wasn’t a huge commercial success. The problem was, that Casablanca Records didn’t promote I Wanna Make It On My Own. Unsurprisingly, I Wanna Make It On My Own was the only album Evelyn Thomas released on Casablanca Records. Given the quality of I Wanna Make It On My Own, this proved to be Casablanca Records’ loss. You’ll realize that, when I’ll tell you about I Wanna Make It On My Own.

Opening I Want To Make It On My Own is the title-track I Want To Make It On My Own. Straight away, you can hear Ian Levine influence. This track has a foot in two separate decades. There’s a real Northern Soul sound, thanks to the pounding rhythm section, sweeping, swirling strings and blazing horns. Bringing the track up to date, are the disco stylings, including percussion and a funky bass, that provides the arrangement’s pulsating heartbeat. Then when Evelyn’s impassioned vocal enters, she finds her inner diva, combining power and confidence. Her vocal floats above cascading strings while harmonies sweep in. They prove the perfect accompaniment, and are the finishing touch to a hook-laden track where Northern Soul, disco, funk and soul are combined by Ian Levine.

Dramatic. That describes the introduction to It’s The Magic Of Your Touch. From there on in, there’s no shortage of drama. Cascading strings, woodwind and the rhythm section combine with urgent harmonies before rasping horns signal the arrival of Evelyn’s vocal. Her vocal is sassy and sultry. It’s delivered against a backdrop where Northern Soul, disco and drama are combined. Although there’s a disco influence, the Northern Soul influence is much more prominent. That’s no surprise, given Ian Levine’s love of Northern Soul.

Look No Further literally bursts into life, before taking you on a musical journey. During that journey, elements of Northern Soul and disco combine seamlessly. Dancing strings, rasping horns and the rhythm section add a backdrop that has Northern Soul written all over it. Then when Evelyn’s vocal enters, you realize that until that moment, she was a disco diva in waiting. Now she’s arrived, and unleashes her inner diva. Her vocal combines emotion, power and passion. Accompanying her, are tight soulful harmonies, vibes and Latin percussion. The vibes and percussion are reminiscent of Philly Soul and the disco Salsoul was releasing. For six minutes, you’re taken on an uplifting and joyous musical journey, where Evelyn Thomas unleashes her best vocal on I Wanna Make It On My Own.

The tempo drops on Thanks For Being There, which allows Evelyn to deliver a deliciously soulful vocal. Her vocal is tender and breathy, delivered against an understated arrangement. At the heart of the arrangement are the lushest of strings, rasping horns and tender, heartfelt harmonies. Everything is designed to compliment Evelyn’s vocal, including a sultry saxophone solo. The result is a beautiful, soulful track which shows another side to Evelyn, one I’d like to hear much more of.

Closing I Wanna Make It On My Own is Back To Reality. It’s track that combines a  has a much more contemporary sound with Northern Soul and disco. The contemporary sound is a result of the bubbling synths chiming and drums. Strings cascade, punchy horns and soaring harmonies have a Northern Soul sound, while the percussion adds a disco sound. Evelyn’s vocal is strident, confident and sometimes sassy. She feeds off the backing vocalists, who drive Evelyn to greater heights of soulfulness.

In many ways, it’s hard to believe that I Wanna Make It On My Own is Evelyn Thomas’ debut album. When she released I Wanna Make It On My Own, she’d only released a quartet of singles. Now she was signed to Casablanca Records, one of disco’s biggest labels. However, Evelyn Thomas belonged on a major label. She was a hugely talented, charismatic and versatile singer. Whether it was disco, soul, jazz or gospel, Evelyn was equally comfortable. During the five tracks on I Want To Make It On My Own she demonstrates her versatility. One minute her vocal is soulful, the next, she’s transformed into a strutting dance-floor diva. One man who played an important part in I Wanna Make It On My Own was producer and songwriter Ian Levine.

With Ian Levine guiding her career, it was no surprise that I Want To Make It On My Own was a fusion of Northern Soul and disco. Producer Ian Levine’s first musical love was Northern Soul. He was also one of the first DJs to play disco in his sets. So, it’s no surprise that his signature sound was a combination of Northern Soul and disco. That combination of musical genres is present throughout I Want To Make It On My Own. The only exception is Thanks For Being There, which features a deliciously soulful vocal from Evelyn Thomas. With music as good as that, I Wanna Make It On My Own deserved to be a commercial success. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

When I Wanna Make It On My Own was released, it wasn’t promoted by Casablanca Records. That meant a wider audience were denied the opportunity to hearing Evelyn Thomas debut album. With its combination of Northern Soul and disco, I wonder how an American audience would’ve reacted to I Wanna Make It On My Own? Would Evelyn Thomas have found the commercial success and critical acclaim that came her way in 1984 much earlier? That we’ll never know. For the followup to I Wanna Make It On My Own, Have A Little Faith In Me, Ian Levine changed Evelyn Thomas’ sound. Would that result in a commercially successful sophomore album Have A Little Faith In Me?

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME.

Having left Casablanca Records after just her 1978 debut album I Wanna Make It On My Own, Evelyn signed to AVI Records. Initially, AVI Records were just going to release a Have A Little Faith In Me and No Time To Turn Around as a double-A-sided single. Then a decision was made to add two other tracks, and release the four tracks as an album. To complete what became Have A Little Faith In Me, two tracks Evelyn had recorded with Ian were added. These were My Head’s In The Stars and Love’s An Illusion. Like Evelyn’s debut album I Wanna Make It On My Own, Ian Levine played an important part in Have A Little Faith In Me.

Ian Levine either wrote the four tracks that became Have A Little Faith In Me. He penned Love’s An Illusion and cowrote Have A Little Faith In Me and No Time To Turn Around with Fiachra Trench. The other track on Have A Little Faith In Me was My Head’s In The Stars, which Evelyn, Ian and Danny Leake cowrote. For recording of the two new tracks on I Wanna Make It On My Own, Evelyn and Ian headed to the Trident Recording Studios in London.

As recording of Have A Little Faith In Me and No Time To Turn Around began, the band comprised a combination of familiar faces and new names. The rhythm section comprised bassists Larry Ball and Mo Foster, drummers Brian Grice and Peter Van Hooke and guitarists Chris Rae, Rick Conway and Danny Leake., who also added percussion. Dean Grant and Vince Willis played keyboards, Frank Ricotti and Marvin Sparks added percussion while Honor Conway played harp. Augmenting this tight and talented band, were a string, horn and woodwind section. Among the backing vocalists were soul singer Barbara Pennington. Once the recording of the two tracks were completed, Have A Little Faith In Me was released later in 1979.

When Have A Little Faith In Me was released, it wasn’t the commercial success that Ian and Evelyn had hoped for. Mind you, 1979 wasn’t a good year for disco albums, as disco’s popularity came to a grinding halt on 12th July 1979. That was when the Disco Demolition Derby took place at Comiskey Park, Chicago. After that, disco albums and artists were suddenly no longer popular. Labels dropped disco artists and disco albums were no longer released. Sadly, during 1979, many great disco albums were released. Was Have A Little Faith In Me one of them? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Have A Little Faith In Me opens with the title-track Have A Little Faith In Me. The introduction is moody, broody and dripping in drama. Repeated stabs of piano, crispy drums, percussion and pizzicato strings combine to create a dramatic backdrop. Horns growl, harmonies coo and after two drama-packed minutes, Evelyn’s vocal enters. It’s well worth the wait. Powerful, soulful and confident, accompanied by tight, equally soulful vocals. Meanwhile, strings quiver and shiver, horns rasp and cascading harmonies prove the perfect accompaniment. Later, during a prolonged break, percussion, chiming guitars, grizzled horns and piano add a funky backdrop. Soulful harmonies set the scene for Evelyn as she delivers what is, a career defining vocal on a stunning track.

Latin percussion, handclaps and pounding drums open No Time To Turn Around. Then when swathes of swirling strings enter, they add a haunting, dramatic backdrop. Again, it’s a case of setting the scene for Evelyn’s emotive vocal. Punchy harmonies and handclaps accompany her. Cascading harmonies are the perfect foil for Evelyn’s vocal, which soon, grows in power and emotion. Layers of string dance as elements of disco and Northern Soul combine. Add in percussion, braying horns and rhythm section that provides a stomping beat, and the result is a soulful, dance-floor friendly sound.

My Head’s In The Stars was one the tracks Evelyn recorded with Ian Levine when he first discovered her. The version on Have A Little Faith In Me is a near nine-minute epic filled with musical surprises. Thunderous drums are joined by hissing hi-hats before congas and handclaps are added. Then when bells enter, they prove something of a curve ball. A funky bass helps provide the track’s heartbeat, before a piano and swirling strings take the track in the direction of Northern Soul and classical music. After two minutes, sweet harmonies enter, before being replaced by flourishes of harp, handclaps and lush strings. Then comes Evelyn’s sweet and tender vocal which is the finishing touch to a compelling and captivating track, that’s full of musical surprises.

Closing Have A Little Faith In Me is Love’s Not An Illusion. It has a really contemporary sound as it begins to reveal its secrets. Percussion, handclaps and pounding drums are joined by flourishes of strings and piano. Having built up the drama, soulful harmonies sweep in. A burst of drums signals the arrival of Evelyn’s heartfelt, emotive vocal. Her vocal grows in power while strings dance and drums pound. Later, percussion and a funky bass take charge during a breakdown. Horns growl, strings quiver and stabs of piano combine are joined by urgent harmonies enter. When the harmonies exit stage left, Evelyn unleashes a feisty vocal. It’s as if she means every word, as she breathes meaning into the lyrics.

Although Have A Little Faith In Me contains only four songs, they’re four great songs. They’ve a much more contemporary sound than the songs on I Wanna Make It On My Own, which was a fusion of disco and Northern Soul. Indeed, it was a very different album. Gone was the prominent Northern Soul influence. It was replaced by a fusion of soul, funk, Latin, disco, proto-boogie and a twist of Northern Soul. This resulted in an album that was dance-floor friendly, moderne and laden with hooks. However, what really made Have A Little Faith In Me such a good album, was Evelyn Thomas’ vocals. She seemed to have blossomed and matured as a vocalist. Her vocal was much more emotive, powerful and able to breath life and meaning into the four songs. Unfortunately, this change of sound, didn’t result in a change of fortune for Evelyn Thomas.

Sadly, just like I Wanna Make It On My Own, Have A Little Faith In Me wasn’t a commercial success. Good as Have A Little Faith In Me was, it was released just as disco’s popularity waned. Maybe if Have A Little Faith In Me had been released a few years earlier, it would’ve been a commercial success. That wasn’t to be. Five years later, commercial success came Evelyn Thomas’ way in 1984. Her single High Energy sold seven-million copies worldwide. Suddenly, Evelyn Thomas was a worldwide star. High Energy gave Evelyn Thomas a number one single in Germany, Spain and in the US Hot Dance/Club Play Charts. However, before reinventing herself and finding fame and fortune with High Energy, Evelyn Thomas released two soulful and dance-floor friendly albums, I Wanna Make It On My Own and Have A Little Faith. These two underrated albums will be rereleased by Disco Recharge on 13th May 2013 as Disco Recharge: Evelyn Thomas-I Wanna Make It On My Own and Have A Little Faith In Me. For anyone yet to discover Evelyn Thomas’ music, or anyone who loves disco or soul music, then Disco Recharge: Evelyn Thomas-I Wanna Make It On My Own and Have A Little Faith In Me is the perfect place to start. Standout Tracks: I Want To Make It On My Own, Look No Further, Have A Little Faith In Me and My Head’s In The Stars.

DISCO RECHARGE: EVELYN THOMAS-I WANNA MAKE IT ON MY OWN AND HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME.

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