Phyllis Hyman - Deliver the Love: The Anthology (2017)

Phyllis Hyman
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Phyllis Hyman - Deliver the Love: The Anthology 

To discuss the vocal legacy of Phyllis Hyman in relation to her contemporaries is a difficult task. Such a singular talent, she was an artist whose instrument and technique are incomparable to any other, even two decades after her passing. Almost just as challenging is to reminisce about the merits of her recorded work in comparison to the discographies of her peers—and not simply because she worked with a caliber of musicians infrequently afforded to singers in the R&B stratosphere. More so, the way the elements of those players’ styles came together so distinctively when paired with Hyman’s ever-powerful delivery and wide-ranging interpretational skills broke traditional barriers of modern soul repertoire.

Phyllis Hyman - Deliver the Love: The Anthology 

To discuss the vocal legacy of Phyllis Hyman in relation to her contemporaries is a difficult task. Such a singular talent, she was an artist whose instrument and technique are incomparable to any other, even two decades after her passing. Almost just as challenging is to reminisce about the merits of her recorded work in comparison to the discographies of her peers—and not simply because she worked with a caliber of musicians infrequently afforded to singers in the R&B stratosphere. More so, the way the elements of those players’ styles came together so distinctively when paired with Hyman’s ever-powerful delivery and wide-ranging interpretational skills broke traditional barriers of modern soul repertoire.

More than a dozen wide-scale collections of Phyllis’ 1970s and ‘80s output have surfaced since her death in 1995, but SoulMusic Records’ new two-disc anthology, Deliver the Love, distinguishes itself from the pack with a colorful and surprising mixture of prime album cuts, hits, and a handful of oft-overlooked collaborations with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, McCoy Tyner, and Barry Manilow. 33 tracks deep, the set is further enriched by a well-rounded historical essay in the accompanying booklet by A. Scott Galloway culling insights from no less than 20 prominent figures in the story of Hyman’s Buddah and Arista years.

While disc one of Deliver the Love focuses largely on the uptempo side of Phyllis’ recordings, disc two hones in on the balladry and mid-paced grooves. The result is a smooth-sailing, two-and-a-half hours-long listening session filled with strong doses of soul complemented by sophisticated jazz tendencies. The anthology’s opening number, “Baby (I’m Gonna Love You),” was Hyman’s second single release before she struck an album deal with Buddah. Beckoning with a sultry, tropically spiced sexy-soul midtempo swagger, the cut showcases the Sophisticated Lady’s softer side, with enveloping hues of ingratiating sensuality. Leading straight into the most iconic moment of her 20 years’ worth of recording, the Mtume & Lucas-penned and -produced slice of disco-soul heaven that is “You Know How to Love Me,” her refined sense of vocal self becomes instantly evident. Veering flawlessly in tone between enticing and electrifying, she’s at one with the blissful lyric and driving melody.

Further exemplifying the breadth of her prowess, 1979’s notably pop-geared “You Sure Look Good to Me,” which Phyllis delivers with a keen mixture of sweetness and strength, is countered by her fiery dynamics and gutsy phrasing on the anthemic 1983 dance floor outing, “Riding the Tiger.” Carrying a heavier load, she infuses rich introspection and intense heartbreak on “Why Did You Turn Me On,” a fine example of her rarefied ability to convey with remarkable authenticity the anguish and emptiness of being deserted. Consistent in intensity—but this time prepared to fiend off potential romantic affliction, Hyman is at once vulnerable and bold on the anthology’s titular selection, “Deliver the Love.”

Phyllis’ collaborations with drummer/producer Norman Connors and singer-songwriter Michael Henderson are perennial favorites with fans of all concerned artists, and they are represented here with the musically idyllic, lyrically down-to-earth 1976 gem “We Both Need Each Other” and 1981’s endearing top-10 hit, “Can’t We Fall in Love Again.” Many listeners first became familiar with Hyman via her lead stint on Connors’ 1976 rendering of The Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly Wow,” which is also included. Fast forward 14 years, her memorable reading of “Sacred Kind of Love” with sax legend Grover Washington, Jr., shows a relaxed and naturally jazzy facet of her palette. But even more striking are the genre-traversing stints with pianist McCoy Tyner, who gives her free reign to explore nuances freely on the marvelously complex “In Search of My Heart” and an outlet to shift adventurously between pensive and intense on the melodic and rhythmic odyssey, “I’ll Be Around.”

Signature Hyman tunes such as the self-penned “Gonna Make Changes” (dedicated to African-American activist Angela Davis); “Somewhere in My Lifetime” (produced by Barry Manilow and Ron Dante); and her moving 1977 reading of the Spinners’ “I Don’t Want to Lose You” also appear on Deliver the Love, not to mention outtakes worthy of delving into, like “In Between the Heartaches” (first recorded by Dionne Warwick) and the feel-good groover “Sleep on It.”

In its entirety, Deliver the Love is a soul-fulfilling experience that powerfully demonstrates the unmitigated multifariousness of a one-of-a-kind artist gone way too soon. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 

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