Lynn Marie - Phoenix

Lynn Marie
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What would Lynn Marie Smith tell Lynn Marie? Lynn Smith was the young vocalist and songwriter for the funk band Nature’s Divine. That outfit struck gold with the 1979 ballad “I Just Can’t Control Myself,” a tune that Lynn Smith co-wrote. Nature’s Divine, like many of the funk bands of that era, was big. The band featured a full horn section and musicians who ably doubled as backing vocalists. Smith not only contributed her writing skills to “I Just Can’t Control Myself,” she also sang on the duet.

Smith fronted the disco jam “Never Felt This Way Before,” but as we know 1979 turned out to be a bad year to be associated with disco. The band was among the victims of macro trends that included the “Disco Backlash of ’79,” record label economics and musical taste changes that forced the big funk bands to go on a diet made the line-up and the sound smaller.

What would Lynn Marie Smith tell Lynn Marie? Lynn Smith was the young vocalist and songwriter for the funk band Nature’s Divine. That outfit struck gold with the 1979 ballad “I Just Can’t Control Myself,” a tune that Lynn Smith co-wrote. Nature’s Divine, like many of the funk bands of that era, was big. The band featured a full horn section and musicians who ably doubled as backing vocalists. Smith not only contributed her writing skills to “I Just Can’t Control Myself,” she also sang on the duet.

Smith fronted the disco jam “Never Felt This Way Before,” but as we know 1979 turned out to be a bad year to be associated with disco. The band was among the victims of macro trends that included the “Disco Backlash of ’79,” record label economics and musical taste changes that forced the big funk bands to go on a diet made the line-up and the sound smaller.

Smith spent much of her post Nature’s Divine days trying to live. She worked as a waitress in her native Detroit and then as a union organizer for the Detroit local of the American Federation of Teachers. However, Smith kept a song on her lips throughout her time working in the ‘real world.’ Her restaurant customers called Smith “the singing waitress,” and she channeled Pete Seeger by repurposing pop songs into pro-labor anthems.

The Great Recession wrought havoc on Detroit. Smith got laid off, which is unfortunate, but it brought her back to the music business and the release of her latest CD Phoenix. So, what would Lynn Marie Smith say to Lynn Marie? Well, with a CD titled Phoenix, perhaps the theme of the conversation would be about setbacks, comebacks and rebirths. One thing that can be said after listening to Phoenix is that Lynn Marie’s music retains its joy despite all her challenges and travails. She’s still singing about the relationships between men and women, and although the voice is a bit more seasoned, Lynn Marie still sings those songs with enviable style.

Phoenix is organized in a manner that will be instantly recognizable to anyone old enough to have slow jammed to “I Just Can’t Control Myself” back in the day. The album features mid-tempo cuts such as “Vacation (feat. Parkes Stewart)” that will be ideal for the steppers set. “Liar” is a funky throwback dance number that finds the vocalist giving the business to a fellow who has a strained relationship with the truth. The album features a remake, and boy did Lynn Marie aim high with a rendition of “Living All Alone” by Phyllis Hyman. Marie plays it pretty straight, and her version is a solid and heartfelt homage to one of her musical heroines.

However, it’s the originals that elevate Phoenix. The CD opens with the up-tempo “Round & Round,” a track where Marie uses see saws, merry-go-rounds and other spinning and metaphors to express her weariness about her lover’s instability.

“He Ain’t You She Ain’t You” is a tune that puts a unique spin on the romantic duet. Two old flames have a chance meeting where they engage in one of those “how’s things with you” conversations. We’ve been here before – recall Teena Marie Rick James’ “Fire and Desire.” However, instead of discussing their pasts in terms of how it prepared them to be a part of somebody else’s present, the past casts a shadow over the present in “He Ain’t You, She Ain’t You.” Both singers acknowledge that their current lovers are wonderful, but the current relationship lacks a certain something. The lyrics and theme hint at a longing and uncertainty that juxtaposed against the bouncy melody makes this song compelling.

It’s easy to see why Lynn Marie titled her album Phoenix. She experienced her share of career immolations and rebirths, but never allowed the dream of singing to flame out during those lean years. Fortunately for all of us, Lynn Marie takes advantage of a new opportunity to shine – and shine she does. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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