Dionne Warwick - Hot! Live and Otherwise (2008 reissue)

Dionne Warwick
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By the time Hot! Live and Otherwise hit record store shelves in 1981, Dionne Warwick was coasting on the crest of a high-profile career resurgence fueled by her first two efforts on Arista Records, Dionne (1979) and No Night So Long (1980).  The mid-‘70s had not been kind to Warwick, especially in the wake of disco. The few albums she recorded for Warner Bros., while solid, couldn't find a place in a musical landscape that was far removed from the orchestral masterpieces she recorded with Burt Bacharach. Even though Warwick stretched musically, working with Thom Bell and Holland-Dozier-Holland, audiences didn't necessarily follow, save for a #1 hit with The Spinners ("Then Came You"). Thus, her return to pop prominence on the Barry Manilow-produced Dionne was even more significant.
By the time Hot! Live and Otherwise hit record store shelves in 1981, Dionne Warwick was coasting on the crest of a high-profile career resurgence fueled by her first two efforts on Arista Records, Dionne (1979) and No Night So Long (1980).  The mid-‘70s had not been kind to Warwick, especially in the wake of disco. The few albums she recorded for Warner Bros., while solid, couldn't find a place in a musical landscape that was far removed from the orchestral masterpieces she recorded with Burt Bacharach. Even though Warwick stretched musically, working with Thom Bell and Holland-Dozier-Holland, audiences didn't necessarily follow, save for a #1 hit with The Spinners ("Then Came You"). Thus, her return to pop prominence on the Barry Manilow-produced Dionne was even more significant. The accompanying hit singles, "I'll Never Love This Way Again" and "Déjà Vu," each earned a Grammy Award and Dionne Warwick reclaimed her place as a force to be reckoned with among the pop and soul divas of the day.

Long out of print, Hot! Live and Otherwise celebrates a sparkling re-issue as the inaugural release on the new Soulmusic.com imprint.  David Nathan's illuminating liner notes trace the journey of Dionne Warwick to Harrah's in Reno, Nevada during the spring of 1981, offering a behind-the-scenes account of how the album and the concert were conceived.  Two previously un-issued bonus studio tracks also make their CD debut. The set is a must for any self-respecting acolyte of Dionne Warwick as well as casual listeners who want something a little different from a "greatest hits" compilation.

Despite being in total command of her vocal prowess in 1981, Warwick admitted, "I'm scared to death," when introducing "Don't Make Me Over," her 1962 hit single.  "If I get through it, I want a standing ovation." If her performance is any indication, no one remained seated after the number. She didn't just "get through it." Her voice embodies the patina of youthful exuberance matched with a mature woman's confidence. Note for note, it's an impeccable update of the original studio version.  A performance of technical perfection and emotional depth also anchors the pop evergreen "Alfie." The song's drama is heightened by Warwick's breathtaking maneuvers on the microphone, easily besting her 1967 studio recording.

Those who've ever attended a Dionne Warwick show will be familiar with the "Hit Records Medley," which strings together more than a dozen of her hits, from "Walk On By" to "A House Is Not a Home" to "Do You Know the Way to San Jose." While it's an accomplishment to have that many hits from which to create a medley, the truncated versions are merely teasers for the beloved originals.  That said, Warwick works some pyrotechnics into "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "Promises, Promises," making the medley something less than essential but much more than an interminable 20 minutes.

Warwick's full-length takes on her then-current material forms the last portion of the concert. Her vocalizing during the break on "Déjà Vu" sends a tingle up the spine while the fireworks that close "I'll Never Love This Way Again" prove that the Grammy for "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female" was well deserved. What she does to the words "hold on" at the song's climax is stunning, taking a good pop song to awe-inspiring heights. She punctuates the last note with an understated "goodnight y'all" and the concert comes to a thrilling close.

The studio material originally found on Side 4 of the two-record set is prototypical early-‘80s ballad material produced by Michael Masser, similar to the sides he recorded with Diana Ross on To Love Again (1981). All swelling orchestras and crescendos, the songs give Dionne Warwick plenty of room to belt out her distinctive vibrato, particularly on "There's a Long Road Ahead of Us." Steve Buckingham, who produced No Night So Long and the live portion of Hot! Live and Otherwise, also lends his touch to the three other studio tracks on this re-issue, the stellar "Even a Fool Would Let Go", and the previously unreleased "When the Good Times Come Again" and "Right Back." The latter is a delightful mid-tempo tune that's waited far too long to see the light of day.

Heard 27 years later, Hot! Live and Otherwise is a fascinating document of an artist whose career was indeed "hot" after something of a cold spell. The album is worth seeking out solely on the merits of her galvanizing concert performances of Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love," Earth, Wind & Fire's "In the Stone," and "One in a Million You" by Larry Graham.  Even more riches were yet to come ("Heartbreaker", "That's What Friends Are For") but in 1981, the sound of vociferous applause rang loud and long for Dionne Warwick.

By Christian John Wikane

 
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