Atlantic Starr - Yours Forever (Reissue) (2013)

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    During the early 1980s, before it was fashionable to be smooth rather than funky, White Plains, New York-based Atlantic Starr was churning out breezy soul gems like "Circles," "Send for Me," and "When Love Calls." Guided by the Lewis family of Wayne (keyboards), David (guitar), and Jonathan (trombone)—along with the authoritative vocal presence of Sharon Bryant, the nine-piece collective delivered consistently accessible tunes with an underlying authenticity.

    Yours Forever, the group's fifth long-player, was originally released in 1983 and popularized by the top-five hit "Touch a Four Leaf Clover" and top-20- charting "More, More, More." The former, with its gently seeping guitar picks, sparkling keyboard layers, and effortlessly gliding chorus, comprised all the makings of a timeless slow-jam. Bryant's incisive lead vocal shimmers with understated sensuality as she coos, "Free as a bird/To catch me is to catch a leprechaun/Hold on to your rabbit's foot/I just might be yours forever." The similarly-vibed mid-tempo grace of "Second to None" (written by Bryant with group percussionist Joseph Phillips) enchants with angelic high notes, an emotive bridge, and an irresistible steppers' groove.

    Netherlands-based Vinyl Masterpiece's new CD reissue of Yours Forever serves as a chance for longtime Atlantic Starr fans to relive a seemingly magical time in R&B music when full-fledged rhythm sections gave assured vocalists a rich canvas on which to paint their emotions. The tide was already turning by the time of the album's initial release, with peer bands such as Midnight Star and Klymaxx beginning to incorporate heavier doses of programming and digital effects into their sound. But Atlantic Starr's solid foundation and reverence for art shone through, seeing Yours Forever into the top-ten during the course of a nine-month stay on Billboard's R&B Albums register.

    Aside from Bryant's standout performances, Wayne Lewis proves his prowess as a singer to be reckoned with on the jammin' "Who Could Love You Better" (co-written by bassist Clifford Archer) and head-noddin' "I Want Your Love." With a smoky falsetto and commanding tenor growl, he carries the pliable melodies and seductive innuendos of "Better" with just the right balance of restraint and power. Meanwhile, brother David shines with tenderness on the reflective and dreamy title track, which served as the group's last single release (and, ironically, first music video) prior to the departure of Sharon Bryant.

    Shortly after the run of Yours Forever, Atlantic Starr downsized to a five-piece ensemble, with Barbara Weathers taking Bryant's place as primary lead vocalist. In this formation, the band would come to experience its most consistent and wide-ranging success, thanks to crossover hits like "Always," "Secret Lovers," and "If Your Heart Isn't in It." While the core elements of musical sensitivity and vocal integrity remained in place, more divergent patterns in the group's style would come into play over the course of several further personnel changes. Yours Forever, therefore, serves as a culmination of Atlantic Starr's beginnings as a dynamic force to be reckoned with—an especially cohesive collective of musicians with melodic prowess and arranging deftness. Recommended.

    by Justin Kantor