At a time in the early 80s when Urban Adult Contemporary music was just coming into its own with "brown eyed pop" singers like Lionel Richie and Atlantic Starr trying to bridge R&B and top 40 radio with soft, slightly soulful pop songs, singer and guitarist Stevie Woods issued a string of albums featuring a plethora of easy-to-digest songs that were slightly edgier than Air Supply, but that placed a premium on big choruses and smoothed corners.
Working with international producer Jack White (who brought with him a basketful of uber-hooky songs from around the world) and an A-Team of backing musicians including Ray Parker, Toto's Steve Lukather and Chicago's Bill Champlin, Woods' issued his debut album, Take Me To Your Heaven, on Cotillion Records in late 1981. Sounding like a young, hip Johnny Mathis, Woods introduced himself and the LP to radio with the smooth single "Steal The Night," which landed in the top 30 on both R&B and pop radio and won for the handsome Woods a small legion of female fans.
There was no question from the get go that Take Me was 100% formula, similar to the albums White created for Laura Branigan over the next few years. A mixture of light dance tunes and singable ballads, with well played, if slightly bland arrangements, Take Me was an audio soma, ear candy with no rough spots. And the funny thing is, unlike 90% of these kinds of albums, the formula here worked beautifully. Woods' smooth tenor was perfect for White's song selections, and the songs themselves were hooky and memorable. "Steal the Night" was the big hit, but the jazzy opening cut, "Fly Away," and the ballads "Throw A Little Bit of Love My Way" and "Read Between the Lines" may have been even better. And six months before Kenny Rogers made it a top 10 hit, Woods' nailed the big love song, "Through The Years," arguably the highlight of a surprisingly pleasing debut album.
Over the next couple of years Woods and White issued a couple more LPs using the same template, but like most formulas, theirs quickly sounded tired, and the lack of "A" material on the follow up discs destined them to "here and gone" status. By the mid 80s Woods ceased recording in the US and quietly moved to Germany for a stage career. But for a moment in 1981 he delivered a near perfect adult pop album that still holds up upon its reissue by Wounded Bird Records nearly 30 years later. And while Urban Adult Contemporary, in the hands of Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, rose to prominence and critical respectability over the next decade, albums like Take Me To Your Heaven continue to be a good representation of how the genre began and a solid reminder that a lot of pretty good, long forgotten music from the early 80s is still worth unearthing. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik