Six years after the release of her debut album Nona Hendryx, Nona decided the time was right to return to the recording studio. Much had changed since 1977, when Nona last released an album. Disco which had been at the height of its popularity back then, had almost died in 1979. After that, music changed. It always did, and always would. Staying still wasn’t an option. In many ways it was not unlike Darwinian evolution. For Nona, her music would have to evolve to stay relevant. If not, she’d cease to be musically relevant. Many artists who refused to changed suffered this fate. Not Nona Hendryx. She wasn’t the type of artist to rest on her laurels. Instead, she was determined to push musical boundaries on Nona, which will be rereleased on 16th July 2013 by Funkytowngrooves.
Nona was Nona’s second album since leaving Labelle, an all-girl group which featured Patti La Belle, Sarah Dash and Nona. By 1976, amid musical and personal tensions, the Labelle decided to split-up. At the heart of their disagreements, was the future direction of the group, who’d released albums ranging from rock, soul, funk and R&B. Their most successful single was 1974s Lady Marmlade, which reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. This was from their 1974 platinum selling album Nightbirds, which reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. That was all in the past. In 1976, Labelle went their separate ways, with each member embarking on a solo career.
First stop, for Nona Hendryx, when she left Labelle, was Epic Records. Having signed a recording contract, Nona started work on her debut album Nona Hendryx. On its release in 1977, Nona Hendryx was well received by critics, but wasn’t a commercial success. Most people expected Nona to start work on her sophomore album. That wasn’t the case. Instead, there was a gap of six years before Nona’s sophomore album was released. By then, Nona was an experienced singer, who’d enjoyed a long musical career, which I’ll tell you about.
When Nona left Labelle, it would be the first time she’d ever recorded an album as a solo artist. Previously, she’d always been part of a group, starting out with a short lived spell as a member of Del-Capris. After this, Nona aged just seventeen, became a lead singer of The Ordettes in 1961. The Ordettes featured Patti La Belle, Sarah Dash and Nona. Later, in 1962, a fourth member would join the group, Cindy Birdsong. After their debut single I Sold My Heart To the Junkman became a hit in 1962, the group changed their name to Patti La Belle and The Bluebelles. Then in 1967, disaster struck for the group, when Cindy decided to join The Supremes. This happened to coincide with a change in musical tastes. Suddenly, girl groups like The Chantels, The Supremes and Patti La Belle and The Bluebelles weren’t so popular. Deciding that a move to England might rejuvenate their career, Patti La Belle and The Bluebelles moved to England in 1971, where they’d gained a cult following.
Now based in England, Vicki Wickham set about changing the group’s image. This lead to a new name Labelle. Patti La Belle was resistant to the change of name, image and sound, but eventually, agreed. This would prove to be a wise move for Labelle. Between 1971 and 1976, they released six solo albums, plus 1971s Gonna Take A Miracle with Laura Nyro. Only 1973s Pressure Cooker failed to chart in the US R&B Charts, with the other albums all proving successful. Most successful was 1974s Nightbirds, which featured their number one single, Lady Marmalade. It reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. However, just two years after this, Labelle split, amid tensions and recriminations. Now, Nona was now a solo artist, it was her chance to take centre-stage.
Although Nona Hendryx released her debut album Nona Hendryx in 1977, it would be another six years until she released the follow-up Nona. Nona’s debut album hadn’t been a commercial success, resulting in Epic dropping her from the label. After this, Nona recorded four singles for London based label Arista. Then Nona put her solo career on hold temporarily. This turned out to be six years.
Next stop for Nona, was singing backing vocals for Talking Heads, and touring with them. Nona’s also worked with Dusty Springfield, during her 1978 comeback. Nona wrote Checkmate, from Dusty’s It Begins Again album. It was during this period that Nona became lead singer with Zero Cool and with experimental funk group Material, who had a huge club hit with Busting Out. Two further club hits would follow for Nona, with a remake of The Supremes Love Is Like An Itching Heart. Her second club hit was when Nona sung lead vocal on The Cage’s Do What You Wanna Do. All this success must have played its part in Nona receiving a new recording contract with RCA. Six years after her debut solo album was released, Nona would record her second album. She hoped that it would fare much better than Nona Hendryx did in 1977.
For recording of Nona, Nona would assemble an all-star cast of musicians. This included a rhythm section of drummers Trevor Gale and Sly Dunbar and bassist Trevor Gale. They were joined by percussionist Daryl Burgee, pianist Valerie Simpson. Guest artists were even drafted in to play on just one track. Among them, were Niles Rodgers playing guitar on Keep It Confidential, and Laurie Anderson playing violin on Design For the Living. Nona featured some of the best musicians in America, and beyond. Not only did Nona played synths on Nona, but she co-produced Nona with Material, with whom Nona had collaborated with. In total, eight tracks were recorded, which would become Nona, an album that combined electro, synth pop, disco and rock.
On the release of Nona in 1983, it’s much more modern dance sound fared better than her debut album. It reached number eighty three in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-five US R&B Charts. Critics also liked the album, believing that Nona’s second album was much more in keeping with the music of 1983. Two of the tracks from the album gave Nona chart success. Keep It Confidential gave Nona a minor R&B hit, reaching number ninety-one in the US Billboard 100, number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts and number twenty-five in the US Club Charts. B-Boys was remixed and became a huge success in clubs, reaching number twenty-five in the US Club charts. Overall, Nona Hendryx’s second album Nona, had proved to be the success that her talent warranted. However, what does the music on Nona sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
Opening Nona is B-Boys, one of the two singles released from the album. Daryl Burgee play percussion and Kashif of BT Express plays keyboards alongside Raymond Jones. A beefy, bass line, keyboards and guitars combine before Nona’s sassy vocal enters. Accompanying her vocal is percussion, stabs of keyboards and the rhythm section, while backing vocalists augment Nona’s powerful, confident vocal. Funky and dance-floor friendly, echo is used sparingly, while Nona delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of power and sass. A combination of catchy lyrics, an arrangement that combines dance music with funk, and of course Nona’s powerful, sometimes sassy vocal make this one of Nona’s highlights.
Living On the Border sees the tempo increase to 116 beats per minute. Driven along by the rhythm section, guitar, keyboards and punchy, backing vocalists, Nona’s vocal is powerful, laden with passion and emotion, as the backing vocalists respond to her call. Meanwhile, the arrangement is perfect for Nona’s vocal and the lyrics. It’s equally powerful, with the rhythm section, keyboards and punchy harmonies, joining Nona. Later, a rocky guitar solo from Ira Siegel is unleashed. As it weaves its way across the arrangement, it adds to the drama. Although quite different from the opening track, the quality is the same on a track that features some of the best lyrics on Nona.
Keep It Confidential was the most successful single released from Nona. Once you’ve heard the track you’ll realize just why. After an understated opening where just keyboards slowly and dramatically play, Nona’s vocal enters. It’s gentle and thoughtful, but quickly grows in power and emotion. As the track starts builds, it reveals its charms and beauty. The keyboards, rhythm section and guitar played by Niles Rodgers combine, as Nona’s powerful vocal is full of emotion and feeling. She’s accompanied by soulful harmonies. Soon, her soulful vocal sits above the dance-floor friendly tempo of 123 beats per minute. Later, Kashif and Kenni Hairston’s keyboards combine, with the punchy, soulful interjections of the harmonies. When Nona’s vocal rejoins, the harmonies match Nona every step of the way for soulfulness, passion and emotion. They’re crucial to the track’s success and timeless sound.
Design For Living features two other hugely successful female artists in Valerie Simpson on piano and Laurie Anderson on violin. After a hesitant start, one of the most beautiful songs on Nona unfolds. Key to this success is Valerie Simpson’s paino playing, which accompanies Nona’s thoughtful, beautiful vocal. As the song unfolds, the arrangement and Nona’s vocal grows. The rhythm section, gospel tinged harmonies, Valerie’s piano and Laurie’s violin combine. Add to this a rocky guitar solo from Nancy Wilson and the result is a beautiful, dramatic and impassioned track, with an arrangement that features an all-star cast of female musicians.
Transformation is an aptly titled track, as Nona has undergone a transformation over the last few tracks. From the rocky sounding Living On The Border to the dance-floor friendly Keep It Confidential and B-Boys to the beauty of Design For Living, this is an album of a variety of styles. Here, the track opens with squelchy sounding synths, keyboards and pounding drums played by Sly Dunbar. This gives the track a real eighties sound. When Nona’s vocal enters, her vocal is strong and impassioned, accompanied by punchy, yet soulful soaring harmonies. Nona’s new, and latest sound works well, especially with Sly’s drumming and the wash of synths and keyboards that accompany her vocal. The result is, a track that with a real eighties sound.
Run For Cover sees the tempo increase, on a track that marries an eighties electronic sound with rocky guitars. This is similar to Living On The Border. Opening with rocky sounding guitars, rhythm section and keyboards, Nona’s vocal is softer, accompanied by dramatic harmonies. Meanwhile, Kevin Staples sprays his rocky guitar sound throughout the arrangement, while a pounding rhythm section and keyboards provide a contrast. For four and a half minutes, the arrangement is loud, powerful and dramatic, as Nona and her band combine an eighties electronic sound with rock music. Not only does this work well and sound great, but demonstrates Nona’s versatility as a singer, musician and producer.
On Steady Action we hear the return of drummer Sly Dunbar on the slowest track on the album. The track is just seventy-five beats per minute, with Sly laying down some slow, thoughtful beats, while Nona’s gives one of her best vocals on the album. Her vocal veers between gentle and thoughtful, to an impassioned and powerful style. Meanwhile backing vocalists accompany her throughout, their voices fusing perfectly with Nona’s. Meanwhile horns that sometimes, sound as if they belong on a reggae album augment the arrangement. All this works well, combining to produce a track that demonstrates a very different, impassioned and quite beautiful side to Nona’s music.
Closing Nona is Dummy Up, which opens with a keyboard solo, before the rhythm section and further keyboards enter. For a moment, Nona sounds a bit like Pat Benetar, as her vocal begins. It’s powerful, full of emotion, while harmonies augment her vocal. The arrangement mixes a punchy, dramatic sound where keyboards and the rhythm section are key to the sound. Later, a funky bass line makes an appearance, before quickly disappearing, as Nona and her punchy, backing vocalists take centre-stage on a track that has a slightly moody, broody and dramatic electronic sounding arrangement that’s perfect for Nona’s dramatic, powerful delivery of the lyrics.
Nona Hendryx’s sophomore solo album Nona, is an album that includes an eclectic selection of music. This includes dance-floor tracks like Keep It Confidential and B-Boys to the fusion eighties electronic sounds and rock guitars of Transformation and Living On the Border. That’s not forgetting the beautiful sounding Design For Living featuring Valerie Simpson on piano and Laurie Anderson on violin, which to me, is the most beautiful sounding track on Nona. Then there’s the laid-back sound of Steady Action featuring Sly Dunbar on drums, which features an impassioned and quite beautiful side of Nona Hendryx’s music. All of this demonstrates that Nona Hendryx is a multi-talented singer, musician and producer. Not only that, but Nona is versatile, and equally comfortable playing numerous different styles of music.
Some artists have a comfort zone, and are unable to operate out-with this musical comfort zone. Not Nona Hendryx though, her previous experience working and collaborating with a variety of artists and musicians helped her create such an eclectic sounding and quality album. This was the result of Nona’s twenty-two years experience of being a recording artist, which had seen her work with various singers, musicians and producers. Thankfully, Nona is available again, after being unavailable for far too long. It was rereleased by Funkytowngrooves on 16th July 2013, by Funytowngrooves, together with six bonus tracks. There are remixes and single versions of B-Boys, Keep It Confidential, Steady Action and Transformation. When this is combined with the eight tracks that feature on Nona, then this is an album that’s well worth either rediscovering or discovering. Nona is one of the few eighties albums that have stood the test of time. Eclectic, Nona, which is Nona Hendrys’s best album, will either appeal to anyone who either enjoys soul, dance and eighties new wave music. Standout Tracks: B-Boys, Keep It Confidential, Design For Living and Steady Action.