Perri - Back to You (2016)

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Perri - Back To You

Perri, the vocal quartet featuring sisters Carol, Darlene, Sharon and Lori Perry, emerged at a time when musical tastes were changing from their tight harmonies and adult oriented vocals influenced by singers such as Anita Baker (for whom they served as backing vocalists) and Angela Bofill, and toward a style of R&B that placed an emphasis on beats and hip-hop influenced vocal delivery and production techniques. That shift was underway by the time the sisters dropped four major label album releases –  Celebrate (1986), The Flight (1988), No Place To Go (1989) and Tradewinds. (1990).

Perri - Back To You

Perri, the vocal quartet featuring sisters Carol, Darlene, Sharon and Lori Perry, emerged at a time when musical tastes were changing from their tight harmonies and adult oriented vocals influenced by singers such as Anita Baker (for whom they served as backing vocalists) and Angela Bofill, and toward a style of R&B that placed an emphasis on beats and hip-hop influenced vocal delivery and production techniques. That shift was underway by the time the sisters dropped four major label album releases –  Celebrate (1986), The Flight (1988), No Place To Go (1989) and Tradewinds. (1990).

The evolving musicals tastes were apparent on the project that provided the sisters with their greatest amount of exposure – the Do The Right Thing Soundtrack. The quartet contributed two tracks to that soundtrack, the New Jack Swing infused tune “Prove To Me,” which fit in nicely with Guy’s “My Fantasy” and Public’s  Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” the soundtrack’s two best known tracks, and “Feels So Good” a sensual ballad that featured the group’s trademark angelic and tight backing harmonies. Lori Perry also sang on the ballad “Hard To Say,” a duet with legendary Manhattans’ lead man Gerald Alston.

The Perry sisters’ ascent, culminating in those major label album releases and their participation on the soundtrack for one of the 20th Century’s 100 best films, happened the old fashioned way: The Perry sisters sang in high school and later on the local club circuit in the 70s and early 80s, but they grew tired of working as a cover group and disbanded in the early 80s. However, they were inspired to perform again after attending a Pat Matheny concert. The sisters recorded cover versions of Matheny songs, and so impressed the guitarist that he invited them to appear with him live. A chance meeting with Anita Baker at a doctor’s office led them to a year as part of Baker’s world tour at a time when Baker – who had just dropped the Rapture album – ranked with Madonna, Whitney Houston, Prince and Janet and Michael Jackson as A-list musical acts.

The sister hadn’t recorded as a group since the early 1990s, although Lori Perry continued working as a solo artist and songwriter and all of them have provided backing vocals for a variety of artists. Now a gospel trio featuring Carol, Darlene and Sharon, Perri returns with Back To You, their first album since their tragically slept on projects from the late 80s and 1990. Those projects serve as a sonic guide for Back To You because the same qualities that made Perri darlings to critics, soul music fans and legends such as Baker are the elements that give Back To You its distinctive style. Mainly the trio’s harmonies remain as tight and angelic as ever.

In Robert “Sput” Searight, drummer for Snarky Puppy who produced Back To You, Perri selected a producer with a gospel background (Searight won a Grammy with his gospel group God’s Property long before snagged statues with Snarky Puppy). Searight’s knowledge of gospel music allowed him to infuse Perri’s sound with a 1980s gospel music sensibility. Tracks such as “Majesty,” with its smooth funk bass line and Earth, Wind & Fire brass inflections, will spark recognition in fans of 1980s gospel, while the siblings’ trademark harmonies and the complex vocal stylings used on the aforementioned “Majesty” definitely have a Clark Sisters feel. Searight brings his Snarky Puppy bandmates into the studio on “God Is So Good,” a cut that possesses a jazz swing that serves as a foundation for Perri’s seamless vocals.

Back To You is a back-to-fundamentals gospel album at a time when many artists in that genre are pushing the creative envelope. Even a number such as “Walk Like You,” a percussive and funky grinder that features Byron Manard “Mr. Talkbox” Chambers, has the feel of a spiritual homage to the late Roger Troutman. But that’s OK. The Perry sisters achieved fame by staying true to their artistic vision even as they showed an openness to what’s current when they dropped “Prove To Me,” and gospel is a genre where audiences would be expected to reward an adherence to fundamentals – provided that talent is one of those fundamentals. And talent has never been a problem for the Perry sisters. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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