Beau Williams - Bodacious (reissue)

Beau Williams
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The success of Luther Vandross with his 1981 debut album Never Too Much opened the door for a golden age of strong male balladeers whose emergence rivalled the rise of the funk group that had begun a few years earlier. Lionel Richie, Jeffrey Osborne, James Ingram and others arose either from groups or from nowhere to help establish the urban adult contemporary genre that would be shared over the next several years with such female counterparts as Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, Anita Baker and Miki Howard. But at a level of popularity below these stars was another set of talented vocalists who, due to more uneven material or weaker marketing, never achieved the same level of success. Beau Williams fell into this category.

The success of Luther Vandross with his 1981 debut album Never Too Much opened the door for a golden age of strong male balladeers whose emergence rivalled the rise of the funk group that had begun a few years earlier. Lionel Richie, Jeffrey Osborne, James Ingram and others arose either from groups or from nowhere to help establish the urban adult contemporary genre that would be shared over the next several years with such female counterparts as Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, Anita Baker and Miki Howard. But at a level of popularity below these stars was another set of talented vocalists who, due to more uneven material or weaker marketing, never achieved the same level of success. Beau Williams fell into this category.

An immensely gifted singer who rivaled the sheer power and range any other male vocalist of the time, Williams turned heads whenever he performed. However, his four albums on Capitol Records from 1981 to 1985, while stocked with talented producers and musicians, were more known for transcendant moments than for consistent, front-to-back quality.  To this day, dramatic ballads from his first two albums such as "Another Place and Time" and "Elvina" (named for his future wife) are sought-after rarities in the soul music community, but the albums as a whole are not regarded nearly as highly.

Bodacious was Williams' third Capitol release and was recorded immediately following his victory on television's Star Search. Working with hot producer/arranger Alan Abrahams and an A-List of collaborators such as Gary Taylor, Ray Parker, Jr., Ingram and Lee Ritenour, Williams appeared ready to - finally - blow up. But for the third time, the result of the collaborations was less than the sum of its parts.  There are certainly moments on Bodacious that stand up more than a quarter century later: His version of Robbie Nevil's "C'est La Vie" (recorded two years before Nevil made it a hit) is solid and Williams' own "Danger Zone" is a decent dance cut. Most notably, as was the case in earlier Williams albums, it is the ballads on Bodacious that created the truly special moments.  The album's unquestioned highlight is "The Last Time I Made Love," a beautiful, romantic number written by 80s hitmakers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.  It is a big song, and Williams' typically theatrical approach makes it even bigger. "The Last Time I Made Love" should have been Beau Williams' breakout hit, but a version of the song by Jeffrey Osborne and Joyce Kennedy (of Mother's Finest) was already inching up the charts by the time Bodacious hit the streets, and a commercial opportunity was lost.  Unfortunately, the rest of Bodacious was well performed but filled with material that was simply a step below what Luther, Lionel and Jeffrey were releasing at the time.  

Bodacious was ultimate lost in the plethora of releases by soul lovermen at the time, and after one more album on Capitol, Williams turned to Gospel music, where he had much more notable success, including a #1 hit ("Wonderful") and a Dove Award. His move to Gospel corresponded to a move back to his hometown of Houston, where he continues as a minister to this day.

In some ways, Bodacious is another of the hundreds of under-the-radar R&B albums of the 70s and 80s -- each with something to recommend -- that largely gathered dust for decades but which are being deservedly unearthed by upstart reissue labels like FunkyTownGrooves.  Like many of the others Bodacious is not a classic, but, for deep fans of 80s funk and soul, has enough strong musical moments to make it a worthwhile reissue. Moderately recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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