BARBARA MASON-LOVE’S THE THING.

BARBARA MASON-LOVE’S THE THING.

By 1975, Barbara Mason’s career was at a crossroads. Her previous album Transition, which was released in 1974, had failed to chart. Neither did the three singles World War Three, The Devil Is Busy and Half Sister, Half Brother. This was a long way from Babara’s debut for Buddah Records, Give Me Your Love. It reached number ninety-five in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts, and featured the soul classic Bed and Board. Since then, Barbara had never matched the success of her Buddah Records debut. Something, it was decided, had to change. 

What changed was the producers, arrangers, musicians and songwriters. Previously, Barbara had worked with the creme de la creme of Philly’s producers, arrangers, musicians and songwriters. Coupled with Barbara’s songwriting and her vocal prowess, it should’ve been a potent partnership. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The problem was, Buddah Records was the wrong label for Barbara. Barbara and her Philly friends would’ve flourished at a bigger label. Buddah Records was the wrong label for Barbara. It was just, nobody realised this until later. Before that, Barbara would record her final album for Buddah Records, Love’s The Thing. Producing Love’s The Thing was Don Davis, who brought in his own band. Would Love’s The Thing, which was recently rereleased by Soul Brother Records, revive Barbara Mason’s career? That’s what I’ll tell, after I’ve told you about Barbara’s career.

Philly born Barbara Mason, released her debut single Trouble Child in 1964, on Crusader Records. Then in 1965, aged just eighteen, Barbara enjoyed the biggest single of her career, the classic, Yes, I’m Ready, which reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Later in 1965, Barbara released her debut album Yes, I’m Ready, on Arctic Records. It reached number 129 in the US Billboard 200. Her 1968 sophomore album Oh How It Hurts reached just number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. 

Having switched labels to National General, If You Knew Him released in 1970, failed to chart. Then in 1973, Barbara’s career received a boost, when she signed to Buddah Records, where she released four albums between 1973 and 1975. 

1973s Give Me Your Love was Barbara Mason’s first album for Buddah Records. It saw Barbara hookup with M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band. They provided the backdrop for what was Barbara’s most successful album on Buddah Records. It reached number ninety-five in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts, and featured another classic track Bed and Board. Lady Love followed in 1974. Again, M.F.S.B. accompanied Barbara, on an album that reached number twenty-nine in the US R&B Charts. This was slightly disappointing for Barbara. Not as much disappointing as her third album for Buddah Records, 1974s Transition.

On the release of Transition in 1974, it failed to chart. The three singles, World War Three, The Devil Is Busy and Half Sister, Half Brother all failed to chart. For Barbara, her career was at a crossroads. So Don Davis was brought in as producer, while his all-star band would provide the backdrop to Philly born Barbara Mason on Love’s The Thing.

Unlike previous albums, Barbara only penned two tracks for Love’s The Thing, I Call Out Your Name and What Am I Gonna Do. Barbara also cowrote (He Wants) The Two Of Us with Bettye Crutcher, who cowrote From His Woman To You with Lester Snell. Jackie Avery penned Shackin’ Up and Norma Toney So He’s Yours Now. The other four tracks Your Sweet Love, One-Two-Three (You Her Or Me),What Do You Say and (There’s) One Man Between Us were written by Jerry Akines, Victor Drayton, John Bellmon and Reginald Turner. These ten tracks became Love’s The Thing, which were recorded in Detroit.

When recording of Love’s The Thing began, producer Don Davis had brought in a rhythm section of bassist Roderick “Peanut” Chandler, drummers Richard “Pistol”Allen and Ural Jones, plus guitarists Robert White and Eddie Hinton. Earl Van Dyke and Rudy Robinson played keyboards. They were joined by the Fisher Strings and the Detroit Horns. This was the band that laid down the ten tracks that became Love’s The Thing, which was released in 1975.

From His Woman To You was the lead single from Love’s The Thing. Reaching number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B charts, it was Barbara’s biggest single. Shackin’ Up reached a disappointing number ninety-one in the US Billboard. However, Shackin’ Up did reach number nine in the US R&B charts. On the release of Love’s The Thing, in 1975, it stalled at 187 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-two in the US R&B charts. Shackin’ was the only single released from Love’s The Thing.This meant Love’s The Thing had surpassed the success of Transition. However, is Love’s The Thing a better album than Transition? That’s what I’ll tell you?

Shackin’ Up opens Love’s The Thing. It has a slow, understated arrangement. Just chiming guitar accompany a slow, pensive rhythm section and keyboards. They provide the backdrop for Barbara’s slow, rueful soliloquy. Harmonies sweep behind Barbara, as she rues people “who don’t understand other people.” This is the signal for Barbara’s vocal to enters. It’s a mixture of pain, power and passion. Hurt and emotion shines through as strings sweep in and the arrangement grows in power and drama. Harmonies accompany Barbara. They’re multi tracked and sung by Barbara. Just like Barbara’s lead vocal, they literally ooze emotion. The harmonies play a huge part in this soul-baring epic written by Jackie Avery. It’s the perfect way to open Love’s The Thing.

Punchy, cooing harmonies cascade across the arrangement to I Call Out Your Name. Before long they coo, and Barbara makes her entrance. Her vocal is tender and needy. Memories come flooding back. She sings “I Call Out Your Name you were smiling… and now these memories are haunting me.” Meanwhile, the Hammond organ adds an atmospheric backdrop and the rhythm section provides a sultry heartbeat. Harmonies add to the emotion. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a heartbroken Barbara breathes life and meaning into her lyrics. The result is a beautiful and moving ballad.

Your Sweet Love sees the tempo rise. Pounding and a piano drums provide the heartbeat. Growling horns and guitars set the scene for Barbara. She delivers a feisty, sassy vocal. Cooing harmonies sweep in, horns bray and drums pound. Guitars add a rocky twist. Barbara’s vocal and her harmonies make the track. As a result, the track is almost anthemic. It’s catchy. Hooks certainly haven’t been rationed. That’s why the track is so popular in the UK’s Modern Soul scene.

The unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ opens So He’s Yours Now. It’s joined by an understated rhythm section. That’s perfect for Barbara’s wistful vocal. She’s accompanied by rueful harmonies, strings and a quivering, jazz-tinged guitar. Suddenly, a sense of urgency is injected into arrangement. Briefly, it becomes cluttered. Thankfully, before long normality is returned, and the arrangement meanders along. Still, Barbara’s vocal is rueful and tinged with melancholy, as  strings sweep and dance and propelling the wistful arrangement along.

Just a probing bass, chiming guitars and sweeping strings open From His Woman To You. It’s the reply to Shirley Brown’s million selling single Woman To Woman. It was about a love triangle. Drums mark time, before a telephone rings and Barbara confronts her love rival. Her soliloquy is heartfelt. She may not be able to give him money, clothes and the finer things in life, but she loves him, with all her heart. That’s why when Barbara unleashes her vocal, it’s a combination power, passion, sincerity and emotion. Barbara’s hedging her bets though. She sings “I don’t mind sharing if you don’t bother me.” Against a string drenched backdrop, a lovestruck Barbara delivers a vocal powerhouse that’s a soulful and heartfelt reply Shirley Brown’s Woman To Woman. 

Strings quiver and shiver, while woodwind and growling horns combine to create the backdrop to Barbara’s vocal One-Two-Three (You Her Or Me). It’s full of confusion, hurt and pain because of her cheating man. Meanwhile,  the rhythm section and piano join the swirling string in providing a dramatic arrangement. Cooing, sweeping harmonies match a feisty Barbara as she delivers an ultimatum to the man whose broken her heart.

What Do You Say is another slow, sultry ballad. The arrangement is understated, just the rhythm section, chiming guitars and stabs of piano. They’re the perfect backdrop for Barbara’s tender vocal. So are sweeping harmonies and lush strings. Later, an alto saxophone is added. It’s the finishing touch, and after that, Barbara reaches greater heights of soulfulness. Her vocal veers between a scat to needy, tender and hopeful.

Straight away, it’s obvious that (He Wants) The Two Of Us isn’t going to work. That’s obvious when a rogue wah wah guitar is unleashed. It reverberates and causes you to wince. Not only that, but it means you can’t concentrate on Barbara’s heartfelt, impassioned vocal. She’s caught in a love triangle, and realises she’s been betrayed. Meanwhile, the rest of the arrangement works. Swathes of strings sweep, the rhythm section add a pulsating heartbeat and harmonies soar above the arrangement. Sadly, the rogue wah wah guitar spoils this track. 

Dramatic. That describes the introduction What Am I Gonna Do. Guitars chime, drums roll and the Barbara scats as the drama builds. Soon, she’s strutting her way through the arrangement, with cooing, sweeping harmonies for company. Horns growl, the rhythm section mix funk, soul and rock. This is perfect as  Barbara struts her way to the track’s dramatic crescendo.

(There’s) One Man Between Us closes Love’s The Thing. It’s yet another love triangle song. Rocky, soulful and dance-floor friendly, Barbara sings the song to her love rival. “I ain’t gonna give him up” she sings. Meanwhile, horns growl and the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. It swings. That’s down to the band and  Barbara’s sassy vocal.

Love’s The Thing closed a chapter in Babara Mason’s career. This was the last album she released for Buddah Records. Although it surpassed the success of Transition, Barbara never released another album on Buddah Records. It seemed her time was up. That maybe wasn’t a bad thing for Barbara. Maybe at  a bigger label, Barbara would enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim her talent deserved?  

After all, Barbara was a talented singer and songwriter. However, she only wrote two tracks on Love’s The Thing. She penned I Call Out Your Name and What Am I Gonna Do. Barbara also cowrote (He Wants) The Two Of Us with Bettye Crutcher. The other tracks were written by other people. Four tracks were penned by the songwriting team of Jerry Akines, Victor Drayton, John Bellmon and Reginald Turner. They seemed to specialise in relationship and love triangle songs. This was very different to the songs Barbara wrote for previous albums. 

Many of the songs Barbara wrote oozed social comment. They were a comment on the worlds woes during the early seventies. This wasn’t the only thing that was missing.

Previously, Barbara had worked with the creme de la creme of Philly’s producers, arrangers, musicians and songwriters. This included arranger and producer Norman Harris. Then there’s M.F.S.B. featuring the cream of Philly’s musicians accompanying. They featured the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, Bobby “Electric” Eli, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns. The final piece in the jigsaw were the Sweethearts of Sigma, backing vocalists Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. All this was missing on Love’s The Thing.

That’s why Love’s The Thing is the weakest in the quartet of albums Barbara Mason released on Buddah Records. Having said that, it’s not a bad album. It’s good, but just not great. Love’s The Thing is a long way from Give Me Your Love, Lady Love and even Transition, which marked a change in Barbara Mason’s style. This continued on Love’s The Thing.

On Love’s The Thing, Barbara combined elements of Southern South with funk, faux Philly Soul and R&B. The strings, horns and harmonies add a Philly Soul influence. However, what’s missing are the men behind the music. M.F.S.B. had provided the soulful sounding backdrop for Barbara’s vocal on her three pervious albums. Good as the band that featured on Love’s The Thing were, they were no match for M.F.S.B. in their prime. However, one thing remained the same, Barbara Mason.

Barbara delivers each song with either passion, emotion, sincerity and urgency. She also adds harmonies. They’re good and the perfect foil to her lead vocal. However, they’re not as good as the Sweethearts of Sigma. They were yin to Barbara’s yang, and had been for three albums. However, the producer Don Davis had rung the changes. 

Give Don Davis his due, he gave Barbara her biggest single of the seventies. Love’s The Thing also saw Barbara return to the charts. It may not have matched the success of Give Me Your Love and Lady Love, but Give Me Your Love charted. Ultimately, this proved a Pyrrhic victory.

Following all the change she’d had to endure, Barbara left Buddah Records after Give Me Your Love. It would prove to be her last album to chart. Between 1978 and 1984, Barbara released a trio of solo albums and an album with Bunny Sigler. Not one of these albums charted. So, in 1984, Barbara decided to concentrate on her music publishing company. She was only thirty-seven. This was music’s loss. Her final album to chart was Give Me Your Love, which ironically, was the weakest album Barbara Mason released on Buddah Records. For anyone wanting to discover Barbara Mason’s music, Give Me Your Love and Lady Love, but Give Me Your Love are the albums to try first. Only then, move on to Barbara Mason’s Buddah Records’ swan-song Give Me Your Love. 

BARBARA MASON-LOVE’S THE THING.

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