Enchantment - Sunshine: The Anthology 1975-1984

Enchantment
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For Detroit basketball fans, the late 1980s brought the greatest period in the city's storied history, as the "Bad Boys" broke the Boston and Los Angeles stranglehold on the NBA, and delivered two straight championships to the Motor City. What distinguished the team and made it legendary was not only the star talent, but also the depth of the squad. Players even eight or nine positions down the bench were incredible athletes in their own right, with the talent to be starters on most other teams (and many were, later in their careers). In a way it was similar with soul music from Detroit, arguably the center of the music world in the 1960s and much of the 70s. Motown brought a constellation of stars like The Temptations, The Supremes and The Four Tops. But the city also held a bevy of incredible, less celebrated acts who made their mark on the music landscape and created classic music that stands strong to this day. One of these acts was Enchantment.

For Detroit basketball fans, the late 1980s brought the greatest period in the city's storied history, as the "Bad Boys" broke the Boston and Los Angeles stranglehold on the NBA, and delivered two straight championships to the Motor City. What distinguished the team and made it legendary was not only the star talent, but also the depth of the squad. Players even eight or nine positions down the bench were incredible athletes in their own right, with the talent to be starters on most other teams (and many were, later in their careers). In a way it was similar with soul music from Detroit, arguably the center of the music world in the 1960s and much of the 70s. Motown brought a constellation of stars like The Temptations, The Supremes and The Four Tops. But the city also held a bevy of incredible, less celebrated acts who made their mark on the music landscape and created classic music that stands strong to this day. One of these acts was Enchantment.

Formed in the late 60s at Detroit's Pershing High School, the quintet, consisting of lead singer Emanuel "EJ" Johnson, Bobby Green, Mickey Clanton, Joe "Jobie" Thomas and Dave Banks, was for many years a local favorite, playing gigs in the area while hoping to ultimately score a record contract. They won a local talent show in 1969 and met rising songwriter and producer, Michael Stokes (later a Motown executive), who would help to shape the group's sound for the next decade and a half. They were signed by the Roadshow label, and came out of the box strongly with two big ballad hits, "Sunshine" and "Gloria." Both songs showcased Enchantment's strong, unique harmonies and the wonderful singing and songwriting skills of EJ Johnson. In an era of falsetto lead vocalists, from Eddie Kendricks to Russell Thompkins to Ted "Wizard" Mills, Johnson's ability to both master emotional ballads and attack blistering upbeat tunes moved him to elite status.

Enchantment's debut album, while less engaging than its two hits, nonetheless established the quintet as a group on the rise, a promise that was fulfilled by the much stronger follow up disc. Once Upon A Dream became the group's most complete LP, and one of the great soul albums of 1977. The big hit from that LP was another languid ballad, "It's You That I Need," with nifty alternating vocals of Thomas and Johnson, but just about every cut on the album was radio worthy, from the sexy, upbeat "If You're Ready," to the beautifully orchestral, multi-movement "Angel In My Life." It's notable that in an era dominated by disco music, Enchantment, like The Manhattans, was scoring hit after hit with soulful ballads, and certainly the chemistry between artist, producer and material seemed to be best on slow songs. However, by 1979, radio was intensely focused on dance music, and the group could only defy gravity for so long. Their next album, Journey to the Land of Enchantment, while now viewed as a gem for its great cuts "Anyway You Want It," "Where Do We Go From Here," and "Forever More" (later remade into a #1 hit by Anthony David and Algebra), did not sell like its predecessors, and began a commercial slide that continued for the remainder of the group's recording days.

1981's Soft Lights Sweet Music was critically a step down, as noted producer Don Davis (The Dramatics) wasn't able to recapture the elixir of the group's prior work, and even the reemergence of Michael Stokes for 1982's Enchanted Lady didn't create an album worthy of the Enchantment's legacy. Sadly, radio had already moved on from Enchantment by the time of 1983's Utopia; that was a particular shame because Utopia was a left field masterpiece, bringing more modern electronic production into the mix, and also some fantastic tunes -- again highlighted by ballads like "I'm Dreaming" and the now classic contribution from Sam Dees and Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey, "Love Struck." At the time of Utopia's release, Columbia Records was marshalling all resources toward another, more popular soul album, a little disc called Thriller, and without a major label push, Enchantment's brilliant recording coda faded quickly from the charts.

Many of the great songs from Enchantment's six LPs have been lost for a generation, so it is particularly pleasing that BBR Records has put together the two disc anthology, Sunshine: The Anthology 1975-1984, at 32 songs the most complete collection of Enchantment's music to date. The beautifully curated Sunshine includes all the biggest hits and some of the best album cuts. One could argue that the collection is a bit too democratic, covering all six albums withe nearly equal weighting (I could have used less from Soft Lights and Enchanted Lady and more from the group's late 70s releases), but those are minor quibbles for this inspired, well-conceived collection.

While the annals of Detroit music history may focus more on the brightest lights from the Motown label, Sunshine is yet another reminder of the depth of greatness that that most musical city delivered during its halcyon days, and gives much deserved shine to one of the great unsung acts of that period. Enchantment made a lot of blue-lights-in-the-basement slow dances something special back in the day, and that magic is recaptured nicely more than three decades later in Sunshine:The Anthology. Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

 

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