Al Johnson - Back For More (Reissue) (2011)

Al Johnson
Al Johnson-Back4More.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Back in 1983 while I was a college student in Michigan, I wandered one day through a second floor loft record store with -- as usual -- almost no money in my pocket. I couldn't afford a new LP, so I went to the "cutout" bin, where they were selling discs for 50 cents. I flipped through crates of LPs trying to find something that looked moderately interesting, and found a scuffed up sleeve that included Al Johnson's 1980 album Back For More. I knew the title song from the Tavares version that appeared on 1979's Madam Butterfly,  but didn't know who Al Johnson was. However, looking at the supporting cast on the disc, including producer Norman Connors and A-list musicians such as Lee Ritenour, David T. Walker, James Gadson and members of Earth, Wind & Fire's band, it was clear that this was an album that had a lot of talent involved.   Of course, while I didn't recognize the name Al Johnson, the DC-based singer had a notable history.

Back in 1983 while I was a college student in Michigan, I wandered one day through a second floor loft record store with -- as usual -- almost no money in my pocket. I couldn't afford a new LP, so I went to the "cutout" bin, where they were selling discs for 50 cents. I flipped through crates of LPs trying to find something that looked moderately interesting, and found a scuffed up sleeve that included Al Johnson's 1980 album Back For More. I knew the title song from the Tavares version that appeared on 1979's Madam Butterfly,  but didn't know who Al Johnson was. However, looking at the supporting cast on the disc, including producer Norman Connors and A-list musicians such as Lee Ritenour, David T. Walker, James Gadson and members of Earth, Wind & Fire's band, it was clear that this was an album that had a lot of talent involved.   Of course, while I didn't recognize the name Al Johnson, the DC-based singer had a notable history. Johnson had been the lead in the Unifics ("Court of Love") and had been a noted songwriter and arranger (Tata Vega, Bloodstone) for over a decade.  I took the four-bit chance on the unknown-to-me artist and was rewarded with one of my favorite bargain purchases ever.

Back for More opened with the familiar title track, but in a format very different than the Tavares version. Johnson's cover delivered a deeper, more infectious groove and topped it off with a great vocal duet with Jean Carne.  The song had been a moderate hit in the US, but has since taken on a larger life, particularly in Europe, where it is cited as one of the premiere examples of the "rare groove" movement of the early 80s. A couple well-produced but lyrically challenged dance cuts (even by 1980, the metaphors comparing love to a battle ["Saved By the Bell,"] or school ["School of the Groove"] were pretty trite) rounded out side one, accompanied by the Philly-influenced ballad, "You're a Different Lady." But the real treat came on side two, where Johnson showed his songwriting chops in a series of terrific ballads and midtempos.  The richly arranged "I've Got My Second Wind" was a minor R&B hit, but it deserved to be much, much bigger. And the romantic "Tonight's the Night For Love" and "You Are My Personal Angel" were perfect for the emerging Quiet Storm format on radio. The disc then closed with Johnson's pensive ballad, "Peaceful," a fine coda to one of 1980's best album sides.

Columbia Records didn't see Johnson as a priority, so sadly the label didn't give Back for More the promotion it deserved. It wasn't long after its release that Back for More went out of print, and within a few years it became almost impossible to find. And while Johnson went on to work hard behind the scenes with acts like the Whispers and Krush (and an occasional reunion with the Unifics), and even to record another solo album in the late 90s, his impressive Columbia debut album remained a lost treasure.  Fortunately, SoulMusic.com has recued this deserving disc from soul limbo, reissuing it with bonus tracks and giving Johnson's legacy fans and some new ones a chance to hear this long lost, beautifully produced and performed adult soul album. Back for More is a real find for lovers of lush 80s soul and a welcome reintroduction to the talented Mr. Al Johnson. Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

Leave a comment!