The essence of soul lies in striking a fine balance between power and subtlety. Many vocalists are revered for captivating belting that brings down the house, while others are admired for rich and smooth tones of seduction. Fewer, though, manage to glide through both realms—especially doing so without showing off one stylistic feat at the expense of other, more understated qualities.
Norwalk, Connecticut native Angela Clemmons delivers promise in all of the above areas on her 1982 self-titled debut LP, newly reissued on CD by Funky Town Grooves. Over the course of nine tunes, she establishes a style firmly her own—whether the atmosphere be a celebratory uptempo number, a calm mid-paced groove, or a soul-stirring ballad. But for some unfortunate reason (perhaps lack of promotion, maybe just bad timing), Angela Clemmons seemed to get lost in the shuffle almost as soon as it came out. Released by the now-defunct Portrait Records (the same label responsible for breaking Cyndi Lauper to the masses), the album got off to a promising start with its lead single, "Give Me Just a Little More Time." The Chairmen of the Board's 1970 classic is given a zesty treatment by Clemmons and the East Coast Rhythm Section. In fact, club-goers at the time reacted so enthusiastically as to propel the remake to #4 on Billboard's Dance/Disco Singles chart.
FTG's reissue is notable for its pristine sound quality. Although the accompanying booklet does not include musician credits, a glance at the original LP's inner sleeve reveals a talented cast of pros, including guitarist Al Ferrante and backing vocalists Tom Harris and Michael W. Brown (who also wrote all of the album's remaining material). In fact, the rhythm section's lively playing is an ideal match for Clemmons' always alert phrasing and undeniable strength. One of the most memorable moments lies in the bustling dancer, "Giving It Away." While traversing alto and soprano territory on a journey from reflective verses to shout-it-from-the-rooftops choruses, the horn section (conducted by Bob Ryan) propels the tune's underlying funk into inspirational fervor. Delving into the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, Brown's sentimental piano strokes level with Clemmons' tempered urgency on the plaintive "Let Me Feel Your Love Again."
Of all the vocal sides Clemmons exhibits, her innate delivery of quiet-storm tunes stands out as the real missed opportunity, from a commercial standpoint. The heavenly midtempo number, "Uneasy," finds her delicately—and oh-so-convincingly—conveying the butterflies of a young lady falling head-over-heels for a relative stranger. Her exquisite tone here brings to mind Deniece Williams, yet her approach to diction is distinctly her own. Meanwhile, the similarly mellow "Keep It Warm for Me" beckons with her soothing request for a significant other's continued comforts after enduring the worldly strife of a daily life.
Also included on FTG's reissue is the singer's 1980 debut single, "Out Here on My Own." A rendition of the song made famous by Irene Cara from the movie Fame, it was released to R&B stations to coincide with the release of Cara's version to pop radio. Certainly, Cara didn't lack any depth in her reading of the heartfelt lyrics. Clemmons, however, puts a more authoritative spin on the story line, climaxing with a crystal-clear, coloratura-like soprano note that Mariah Carey would surely desire to hit with such ease and perfection. The only regrettable omission from the reissue is the original 1980 mix of the disco-funk number "Fill You Up," which has a charming simplicity that's lost a little bit on the remixed album version.
The CD debut of Angela Clemmons is a most welcome adventure back to the end of an era wherein live musicians were the order of the day, and authentic vocalists reigned supreme—no cloudy studio gimmickry necessary. Clemmons released one more album (1987's This Is Love, also reissued by FTG), but it succumbed somewhat to programming trends of its time and didn't allow her to flex quite as much vocal muscle. This 1982 set holds up as an organic collection of plentiful soul and melodic heft to be reckoned with. Highly Recommended.
by Justin Kantor