The Detroit quintet Enchantment broke out in a big way in 1976 with two smash hits that rose near the top of the R&B charts, "Sunshine" and the quiet storm ballad, "Gloria." Both songs highlighted what was best about Enchantment: Solid group harmonies, a sense of drama and the chilling falsetto of lead singer, Emmanuel "E.J." Johnson. But for all the praise that the group's two hits received, the accompanying debut album was otherwise pretty mediocre, and it wasn't clear whether the act was a two-hit wonder or whether there was more gas in the tank.
So, when I walked into the Grapevine Records store in Flint, Michigan in early 1978, itching to buy some new music sight unseen, I was taking a bit of a chance on Enchantment's second album, Once Upon A Dream. More often than not, when I did those "blind" buys I usually wished I had my lawn-mowing money back. But on that day I had stumbled upon what, by any measure, was one of the truly great albums of that year. And now, 34 years later, the reissued Once Upon A Dream sounds just as good as it did that first day.
Enchantment's progression from their first to their second album was stunning. Up-and-coming producer (and future Motown executive) Michael Stokes had clearly grown up on the lush orchestrations of 60s Detroit music and the Gamble-Huff-Bell Philly juggernaut of the mid-70s, and he brought a grand musical vision and many of Detroit's best players to Once Upon a Dream. And in Enchantment -- and particularly in Johnson's angelic falsetto -- he found the perfect vehicle to realize his vision.
Dream opens with the upbeat "Sunnyshine Feeling," a fun pop/soul track that sets a nice tone for the disc, but more importantly provides a warm up for the killer song that follows: "It's You That I Need" became an instant soul classic ballad, an aching reading of lost love by Joe Thomas that builds and builds until Johnson brings it home, Philippe Wynne style, over a thrilling six minutes. While "It's You That I Need" would have been enough to make the album worthwhile, Stokes and Enchantment had many more ideas and a surprising number of directions yet to show, from electronic dance on "If You're Ready," to dance pop on "You're The One" (a mild parody of a McDonald's jingle of the time) to the blistering minute-and-a-half sax solo by Bob Seger sideman Alto Reed on the heavy funk number, "Up Higher." But what stood out most on Once Upon A Dream was what always seemed to stand out on Enchantment albums: the love songs. Here, "Angel In My Life" was Johnson's tour de force, a plaintive ballad that clearly placed him on the level of Eddie Kendricks, Russell Thompkins, Ted Mills and the other tenor stars of the time. Nearly as enjoyable were "Silly Love Song" and the more traditional "Trying To Get Over," each highlighting the solid harmonies that always supported everything Enchantment released.
Once Upon A Dream went gold and became the critical and commercial high point for Enchantment (though the group's final album, 1983's Utopia, was nearly as enjoyable). And it is largely the reason why this act, which really only had a 3 or 4 year run of significant success, is still so revered today by classic soul music fans. Enchantment bore a full sound that few groups since have been able to match, and they had arguably one of the top five singers of the 70s leading the vocal charge. And as good as their six album run in the late 70s and early 80s was, never were they as uniformly enjoyable as on Once Upon A Dream, one of the essential soul music albums of its time. Highly Recommended.
By Chris Rizik