Evelyn "Champagne" King - Flirt (reissue) (2016)

Evelyn "Champagne" King
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The voice has always been the one constant for Evelyn “Champagne” King. King’s instrument led to her Hollywood type discovery at Philadelphia International Records where as a 16-year-old she worked with her mother as a custodian. King was singing in the bathroom while cleaning when she was overheard by one of the label’s producers, who signed the teenager.

King’s first album Smooth Talk and single “Shame” were released in 1977, and both earned critical and popular acclaim. The funky and bass driven “Shame” is fronted by King’s powerful voice, which sports a maturity that belies her age. Nobody could believe that the woman singing so powerfully was a high school junior. People would not have been surprised if they knew the native New Yorker’s pedigree: King’s uncle played the role of Sportin’ Life in “Porgy and Bess,” and her father was a backing vocalist at The Apollo Theater, while her mother was a music manager.

The voice has always been the one constant for Evelyn “Champagne” King. King’s instrument led to her Hollywood type discovery at Philadelphia International Records where as a 16-year-old she worked with her mother as a custodian. King was singing in the bathroom while cleaning when she was overheard by one of the label’s producers, who signed the teenager.

King’s first album Smooth Talk and single “Shame” were released in 1977, and both earned critical and popular acclaim. The funky and bass driven “Shame” is fronted by King’s powerful voice, which sports a maturity that belies her age. Nobody could believe that the woman singing so powerfully was a high school junior. People would not have been surprised if they knew the native New Yorker’s pedigree: King’s uncle played the role of Sportin’ Life in “Porgy and Bess,” and her father was a backing vocalist at The Apollo Theater, while her mother was a music manager.

That background likely explains why King managed to avoid being cast as a disco singer when the backlash made that music unmarketable in the early 1980s. It’s not that King did not struggle to find her place in the post disco world. He next two records dented the pop Top 40 and R&B Top 20, but by 1981’s I’m In Love, King and her production team figured out how to match material with her voice and she was a chart presence with several Top 10 R&B hits for most of the decade. That decade of success culminated with the release of Flirt, a record that has recently been reissued with bonus versions of the three singles, “Flirt,” “Hold On To What You’ve Got” and “Kisses Don’t Lie.”

By 1989, when King switched her label affiliation from RCA to EMI-Manhattan for the release of Flirt, the music scene was undergoing another change. Radio could no longer ignore the commercial force of rap music, and the R&B subgenre called New Jack Swing fused rap production techniques with 1980s synth infused funk, resulting in a string of hits from the late 80s through the mid-90s.

King responded to those trends on Flirt, although the album’s most enduring number, “Kisses Don’t Lie,” is the type of mid-tempo romantic song ballad had been the singer’s staple since she followed “Shame” with “I Don’t Know If It’s Right” back in 77. Ironically, the title track – a bass and synth driven dance number, and “Hold On To What You’ve Got,” a pop infused cut that tells the story of King trying to avoid an office romance with the office playboy, both reached the Top Five on the R&B charts while “Kisses Don’t Lie” peaked at 17.

The major reason that “Kisses Don’t Lie” has a continuing presence on Urban Adult Contemporary radio is that the track’s blend of jazz infused funk along with the constant of King’s strong vocals has a timeless kind of feel that has found a place in the hearts of UAC listeners. Flirt contains two other strong ballads, “When The Heart Says Yes,” and “Whenever You Touch Me,” the latter of which is an excellent example of fusion of the cutting edge with the classic. The track fuses the synthesized strings and percussion with backing vocals that range from classic doo-wop to gospel. Of course, the track is highlighted by King’s rangy and emotive vocals.

Still, the up-tempo tunes on Flirt show that King remained one of the era’s prime dance music divas. The fun “Before The Date” mixes a hard driving bass line with those airy synthesizers that late 80s contemporaries such as Paula Abdul also employed. On “Before The Date,” King takes listeners into the private space where she gets prepared for a blind date. The lyrics hint both at the anticipation and excitement and at King seeking to manage expectations: “There’s a first time for everything, but this is really not my style/It’s just a blind date/It’s not like I’m walking down the aisle.”

Flirt would be the last label charting project for King, and it is not a record that comes to mind when fans engage in the “whatever happened to” exercise. Still, the release reveals King as an artist who never lost touch with what made her distinct - even as she anticipated, learned and adopted some of the latest trends. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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