Elegance and variety have always been essential ingredients in Dionne Warwick's one-of-a-kind vocal delivery. Regardless of the genre in which she sings, there's a clear sophistication in her phrasing and a seemingly boundless scale of notes and dynamics in the interpretation of each melody she envelops. These qualities have been demonstrated time and time again over five decades—from the beauteous strains of her record-shattering 1960s output for Scepter ("Don't Make Me Over," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "Alfie," and countless others) to the colorful gusto of her widely acclaimed '80s and '90s Arista material ("I'll Never Love This Way Again," "Heartbreaker," and "That's What Friends Are For," to name a few).
To this day, one period of Warwick's prolific recording career has remained largely overlooked. She released five albums for Warner Bros. Records from 1972 to 1977; but in spite of this period’s soulful repertoire and cream-of-the-crop producers, many listeners only remember her collaboration with the Spinners ("Then Came You"). The albums—helmed by great talents such as Thom Bell, Jerry Ragovoy, and Holland-Dozier-Holland—have been reissued on CD on several occasions. But not until now has the material been packaged in a collective manner that effectively demonstrates its remarkable depth and diversity. Specifically, the eclectic Real Gone Music has issued two outstanding compilations: The Complete Warner Bros. Singles and We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters.
The Complete Warner Bros. Singles includes small-scale hits such as "Once You Hit the Road," "Take It from Me," and "Do You Believe In Love at First Sight"—all gems that leave one to wonder why Warwick was not closer to the top of the charts upon their release. It's We Need to Go Back, however, that is the most valuable treasure trove. All 19 selections are previously unreleased, anywhere, and include some of the most surprising and picturesque tunes Warwick has graced in her career. Soaring melodies, emotion-charged arrangements, and piquant lyrics run through a majority of the compositions, while a few entries make their statements with reserved interpretation and subtle nuances.
We Need to Go Back opens with two outtakes from 1973's Just Being Myself, produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland. "No one can get out of life alive/Without some hurt or some loss of pride," Warwick sings with remarkable delicacy on "Too Far out of Reach." The majestic orchestration and angelic background chorus enrich the ballad's poignant message: "Don't you know, everybody's got to lose/And there's no exceptions, none to the rule." Ashford & Simpson, who signed as artists to Warner Bros. around the same time as Warwick, never got a song placed on any of her albums. A true shame, given the spirit and fire of their compositions and productions for her, including the marvelously insightful title song. In a tender, almost subdued, manner, Warwick relays: "Ain't nobody got nothin' good to say/And if it ain't a dirty game, nobody wants to play...We need to go back...to when we shared a little bit of everything." The vibrant arrangement retains the signature jazzy touch that her recordings with Burt Bacharach and Hal David are revered for; yet its assertive rhythms and background vox were surely relevant to the world of early-'70s soul.
One of the most brightly shining moments on We Need to Go Back is the appropriately titled "You Are the Sunlight, I Am the Moon," penned and produced by Randy Edelman. The fullness of the orchestration, complemented by a Latin swing and cozy piano lines, provides an effortlessly comfortable backdrop for Warwick's heavenly narrative of a complicated romance: "I can make a million of the dreams I have come true/You're a different story, but it's you I adore." Perhaps the most breathtaking event of the collection, however, is "And Then You Know What He Did," written by Burt Bacharach and Bobby Russell. Warwick passionately exalts each line of the story alongside a sweeping arrangement of grand dynamic proportions. "Because I was so fond of you/I could not see beyond you/So I went out alone today," she begins. "From across the room a feeling came/I looked up and there he came...And then you know what he did/Loved me with his eyes...You may think it's strange/But then I can't remember when I felt the same with you." One can strongly feel the joy, shock, and regret of each character as the plot gradually unravels from low-key verses and soft rhythms to bold passages and thunderous undertones.
Also represented on We Need to Go Back are unused selections that Warwick recorded for her Then Came You and Track of the Cat albums, produced, respectively, by Jerry Ragovoy and Thom Bell. Meanwhile, Joe Porter, who was at the boards for Warwick's 1976 single-only release, "I Didn't Mean to Love You," lands five never-before-heard selections on the disc. Written by the likes of Barry Gibb, Isaac Hayes, and Linda Hargrove, these tunes find Warwick exploring a remarkable array of genres—ranging from the lighthearted reggae swayer, "Rest Your Love on Me," to the funky and romantic swag of "Make a Little Love to Me" and the country-lighted reflection of "Keep Me Warm."
We Need to Go Back is a most-welcome and sacred treasure to behold in the deep and illustrious catalog of one of America's most important interpreters of song. The intimacy that Warwick conveys with each lyric she digs into is unmistakable. The exuberance with which she carries each song from its dawning to its peak is first-rate. Whether the listener be a longtime fan or newly familiar with Warwick's work, this collection serves as a stellar reminder of the sheer power and scope that arises from the relationship between a divine voice and masterful material. Highly Recommended.
by Justin Kantor