After over a decade of toiling as a member of Michael Zager's Moon Band and as a solo artist on the small Bang Records label, in 1977 Peabo Bryson signed with industry giant Capitol Records and formally introduced the soul music to one of its future leading romantic men. With good looks and a deep, almost operatic voice, Bryson was a natural draw. And it didn't hurt that he could write and produce some killer love songs -- a welcome contrast to the plethora of dance songs that filled R&B radio at the time.
Reaching for the Sky was Bryson's coming out party and it bore the style that would carry him through a series of gold albums on Capitol. All featured expressive love songs, featuring Bryson's deep riffing and enough bass plucking to give them a peculiarly urban feel. Reaching's title cut became Bryson's first legitimate hit, but "Feel the Fire," which charted for several artists over the years (including Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills), was the true gem of the disc - and Bryson sang the hell out of it. Like Luther Vandross a half decade later, Bryson could occasionally hit it right on uptempo songs like "A Fool Already Knows," but he sounded most comfortable and engaging on the ballads that dominated the disc, such as "Hold On To the World" and "Love Walked Out On Me."
With his star rising, Bryson wasted no time capitalizing on the success of Reaching. In 1978, he issued Crosswinds, an album of the same mold as its predecessor and featuring a group of solid new compositions. The six minute ballad "I'm So Into You" shot to the top of the R&B charts and became a "quiet storm" radio staple for the next thirty years. The uptempo songs on Crosswinds serve mostly as perfunctory breaks, allowing the ladies to fan themselves a bit between Peabo's love ballads...and there were plenty of the latter. The title track and "Don't Touch Me" were absolutely solid, but perhaps the most irresistible track was "She's A Woman," a beautiful love ballad that sounded like a sequel to Skylark/New Birth hit "Wildflower" and became the tipping point for Bryson's special relationship with his incredibly loyal female following, which continues to this day.
Peabo Bryson would go on to record successfully for years to come, moving over time to more of an adult contemporary style that gave him his biggest crossover hits. But it would be tough to find a pair of albums in his career that better characterized his best qualities as a songwriter, producer and, especially, a singer, than Reaching and Crosswinds. And SoulMusic.com's reissue of these two albums on a single disc is a welcome 2011 event for soul music lovers. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik