DISCO RECHARGE-THE DUNCAN SISTERS.
DISCO RECHARGE-THE DUNCAN SISTERS.
It’s been a while since the last instalment of the Disco Recharge series. That was when Tantra’s The Collection was released in July 2013. Since then, releases have been scheduled, but cancelled at the last minute. Meanwhile, readers have constantly emailed me asking what was happening with the Disco Recharge series? Despite contacting the record company, I was none the wiser. The whereabouts of the Disco Recharge series was quickly becoming the eighth wonder of the world.
Then on the 27th January 2014, three instalments of the Disco Recharge series were scheduled to be released. We’d been here before with the same releases. Try as I may, I couldn’t find out any details. Then a couple of days ago, a friend sent me a belated Christmas present. This included some CDs. One of these CDs was the much delayed Disco Recharge-The Duncan Sisters rerelease. So, given its been a while since I’ve reviewed a disco album, I thought I’d review Disco Recharge-The Duncan Sisters.
Released in 1979, The Duncan Sisters’ debut eponymous album was produced by Canadian based production team of expat Scot Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther. Together, they formed the THP Orchestra in 1976, who released a quartet of albums between 1976 and 1979. Two of their other projects were Grand Tour and Southern Exposure. By 1979, Willi and Ian added another signing to their roster, The Duncan Singers.
Will and Ian were familiar with The Duncan Sisters. They’d been introduced to them when they were asked to produce some jingles for Ontario radio station OKOC. The station director told Will and Ian that previously, they’d used Memphis based Pete Pedersen to arrange the jingles. He was older and had more experience. Pete, Willi and Ian were told, might make a useful addition to their team. It was through Pete that Willi and Ian met The Duncan Sisters.
Soon, The Duncan Sisters were singing lead vocals for the THP Orchestra on their Tender Is The Night album. They also made an appearance on the Sticky Fingers project. This is no surprise given The Duncan Sisters’ pedigree. Phyllis and Helen Duncan had sung backing vocals for Al Green, Ann Peebles and other artists signed to the legendary Hi Records. Then in 1976, with the musical landscape changing and disco surpassing soul in popularity, The Duncan Sisters released their debut single.
They jumped onto the disco bandwagon and released It’s You That I Need. On its release in 1976, the single flopped. It wasn’t a commercial success. Despite receiving a few favourable reviews, it didn’t look like The Duncan Sisters would make a career as disco divas. Then three years later, Willi and Ian decided to take a chance on The Duncan Sisters.
So much so, that Wili and Ian decided to risk their own money on The Duncan Sisters. Usually, when Willi and Ian produced an album, there was always a distribution deal in place. The only exception was the THP Orchestra’s Good To Me album. This set a precedent for The Duncan Sisters. Willi and Ian decided they’d finance their debut album The Duncan Sisters. That was how much they believed in The Duncan Sisters. They were sure they’d be able to sell The Duncan Sisters debut album.
For what became The Duncan Sisters, Willi Morrison penned Sadness In My Eyes and Love Is On The Way. He cowrote Outside Love with Bruce Ley. Sypora Azizollah wrote Rock Along Slowly and John Shand wrote Love Is On The Way. The other tracks was Boys Will Be Boys which was written Charles Cochran and Roger Cook. These six tracks were recorded at Phase One Studios, Toronto.
At Phase One Studios, Willi and Ian produced The Duncan Sisters. Accompanying Phyllis were accompanied by a rhythm, horn and string section. The rhythm section included bassist Errol Thomas, drummer Barry Keane and guitarists Brian Roles and Michael Toles. Carl Marsh played synths and keyboards, while Dick Smith added congas and Peter Appleyard vibes. Along with a full string and horn section, no expense was spared on The Duncan Sisters. However, was it money well spent?
Having struggled to get a record deal for The Duncan Sisters, eventually, Willi and Ian signed a deal with Earmarc Records, a subsidiary of Casablanca. On its release in 1979, The Duncan Sisters wasn’t a commercial success. Two singles were released from The Duncan Sisters. Neither Sadness In My Eyes nor Boys Will Be Boys charted. Despite Willi and Ian’s belief in The Duncan Sisters, success eluded them. Maybe this wasn’t helped by the demise in disco’s popularity.
Disco died in in July 1979. The rise of the Disco Sucks movement hastened its demise. After Demolition Derby Night in Comiskey Park, Chicago, suddenly, disco sucked. For disco labels and artists, this was a disaster. Suddenly, disco labels folded, disco artists were dropped and disco albums shelved. 1979 was the year zero for disco. For The Duncan Sisters they couldn’t have picked a worse time to release an album. A year earlier, who knows, maybe The Duncan Sisters would’ve been a commercial success? Maybe, The Duncan Sisters is a case of an album being released at the wrong time? Is that the case though?
Opening The Duncan Sisters is Sadness In My Eyes. Bubbling synths, pounding drums and meandering, wistful keyboards give way to a rueful half-spoken vocal enters. It’s inspired by The Shangri Las’ Leader Of The Pack. As the vocal drops out, rocky guitars, a pounding, funky bass and swathes of sweeping, swirling strings join forces. They set the scene for The Duncan Sisters urgent, heartbroken and soulful vocals. Behind them, crystalline guitars, buzzing synths, handclaps and hypnotic rhythm section provide the backdrop for their vocals on this genre-melting track. Everything from disco, Euro Disco, funk, pop and soul is combined to create a track that’s poppy, dance-floor friendly, slick and soulful.
Just like the opening track, Outside Love has a Euro Disco influence. This is apparent from the opening bars. The drums create a thunderous 4/4 beat, while a hesitant bass, dramatic synths and cascading strings combine with rasping horns. Having set the scene, The Duncan Sisters take centre-stage. They strut through the track, mixing power, sass and drama. It’s a diva-esque performance. Meanwhile, strings sweep and swirl, guitars sneer, horns blaze and the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. They play supporting roles to The Duncan Sisters’ urgent, dramatic, strutting vocals.
Rock Along Slowly sees the tempo drop and the lushest of strings set the scene for The Duncan Sisters. They deliver tender, heartfelt and beautiful vocals. The lead vocal is shared. Helen and Phyllis both getting the opportunity to showcase their talent and versatility. The arrangement grows in power and drama. So does the vocal which is full of drama, emotion and passion. Adding the finishing touch is a wistful harmonica. This sets the scene for the track as it heads towards its melancholy, dramatic finish.
Boys Will Be Boys is another fusions of styles. Euro Disco, Hi-NRG, funk and rocky guitars combine. A thunderous beat, hissing hi hats, congas and uber funky bass are joined a stuttering guitar. Then stabs of blazing horns, Shadow-esque guitars and bubbling synths set the scene for The Duncan Sisters. They deliver a confident, feisty vocal. Their harmonies sit atop the pounding rhythm section before a blistering horn solo is unleashed. Drums crack, strings sweep and a myriad of percussion is added before the blistering horn solo returns. It’s almost show stealer. That’s until The Duncan Sisters and raise their game, mixing sass and slick hooks.
Love Is On The Way explodes into life. Handclaps, pounding drums, growling horns and swirling strings give way to The Duncan Sisters. They remind me of The Ritchie Family. Their vocals are a combination of power and passion. Heartfelt and needy, a myriad of punchy horns, handclaps, keyboards, rhythm section and percussion create a backdrop that’s briefly reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke. By now, sassy and soulful describes the vocal. They inspire the band to even greater heights. Kicking loose they surpass everything that’s gone before, to create a hook-laden, timeless dance track.
You Give Me Such A Feeling closes The Duncan Sisters. A coquettish vocal is enveloped by a braying horns, chiming guitars, sweeping strings and the rhythm section. It’s an impressive sound what’s essentially the THP Orchestra in full flight. Even better, is when The Duncan Sisters are delivering a soulful, powerhouse of a vocal. Accompanied by cooing harmonies, thunderous drums, dancing string and grizzled horns it’s an impressive sound. Especially, with a vocal masterclass from The Duncan Sisters. They’re soulful, seductive, sassy and needy while the band ensure The Duncan Sisters ends on a glorious high.
Listening to The Duncan Sisters thirty-five years after its release, it’s stood the test of time. Maybe, that’s because The Duncan Sisters isn’t just a disco album. It’s more than that. There’s everything from disco, Euro Disco, funk, jazz, pop, rock and soul. Granted the first two tracks on The Duncan Sisters, Sadness In My Eye and Outside Love are a fusion of disco and Euro, albeit with a twist of funk, pop and rocky guitars. Then Rock Along Slowly showcases another side of The Duncan Sisters. We hear a much more understated, tender and soulful side of their music. Boys Will Be Boys is a return to the Euro Disco, with Hi-NRG, funk and rocky guitars thrown into the mix. Things get better on the two closing tracks. Love Is On The Way is a timeless dance track and You Give Me Such A Feeling features a vocal powerhouse from The Duncan Sisters. That was the perfect way to close The Duncan Sisters.
Although The Duncan Sisters consists of just six songs, that’s no bad thing. Nowadays, quantity seems more important than quality. Back in 1979, artists and producers were restricted by the fact that a vinyl album could only hold a certain amount of music. This meant we only heard the best music an artist had. With the advent of the CD, artists started releasing sprawling albums. As a result, the quality suffered. Not in 1979. Willi Morrison and Ian Geunther picked the six songs that best suited The Duncan Sisters. They then took them into Phase One Studios with a rhythm, horn and string section. No expense it seems, was spared. Sadly, this gamble never paid off.
Released in 1979 on Earmarc Records, The Duncan Sisters wasn’t a commercial success. That’s nothing to do with the music. It’s to do with the death of disco. Disco died in in July 1979. The rise of the Disco Sucks movement hastened disco’s demise. It didn’t fade away. Disco burnt out. After Demolition Derby Night in Comiskey Park, Chicago, suddenly, disco sucked. For disco labels and artists, this was a disaster. Suddenly, disco labels folded, disco artists were dropped and disco albums shelved. 1979 was the year disco died. For The Duncan Sisters they couldn’t have picked a worse time to release an album. A year earlier maybe The Duncan Sisters would’ve been a commercial success? Especially, given the quality of music on The Duncan Sisters. Sadly, The Duncan Sisters is yet another example of an album being released at the wrong time? Lady Luck didn’t shine on The Duncan Sisters. They were a victim not just of fate, but in changing musical tastes. Sadly, The Duncan Sisters career was almost over before it began. Although they released two more albums, their debut album The Duncan Sisters was the best of their career.
DISCO RECHARGE-THE DUNCAN SISTERS.