Tavares - New Directions (Reissue)

Tavares
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It was 1982 and Tavares was lost. But how could this have happened?  The five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts had constituted one of the most consistent hitmaking groups of the 70s, with more than a dozen top 10 R&B hits.  And though some critics complained that Tavares was merely a "producer's group" -- a faceless tool for whatever producer worked on a given album -- that criticism underestimated both the quintet's immense talent (particularly those gorgeous harmonies) and their uncanny knack for, album after album, finding exactly the right material and producers with which to work.  Hitmakers such as Freddie Perren (Gloria Gaynor, Peaches & Herb), Kashif and David Foster went on to Grammy Awards and much acclaim after getting their feet wet working with Tavares, and the marriage of the brothers, manager Brian Panella and Capitol Records yielded some of the finest and most popular R&B and dance music of the decade.

It was 1982 and Tavares was lost. But how could this have happened?  The five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts had constituted one of the most consistent hitmaking groups of the 70s, with more than a dozen top 10 R&B hits.  And though some critics complained that Tavares was merely a "producer's group" -- a faceless tool for whatever producer worked on a given album -- that criticism underestimated both the quintet's immense talent (particularly those gorgeous harmonies) and their uncanny knack for, album after album, finding exactly the right material and producers with which to work.  Hitmakers such as Freddie Perren (Gloria Gaynor, Peaches & Herb), Kashif and David Foster went on to Grammy Awards and much acclaim after getting their feet wet working with Tavares, and the marriage of the brothers, manager Brian Panella and Capitol Records yielded some of the finest and most popular R&B and dance music of the decade. However, three enjoyable but less successful albums in 1980-81 (Supercharged, Love Uprising and Lovelight) had strained the marriage, and with Capitol's eye wandering, Tavares parted ways with the label and, unfortunately, with Panella in '82, ultimately finding themselves with new, less engaged management and a tenuous deal with RCA's fledgling R&B division.

For their RCA debut, New Directions (now reissued on the UK-based BBR label), the group interviewed several producers before settling on an odd combination: they would return to Perren's Grand Slam Productions, where they had had their biggest success ("Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel") and also team with soft pop writer/producer Kenny Nolan.  The seemingly incongruous combination carried through to the physical album, with one side of Nolan-penned pop ballads and the other half of electronic funk, resulting in perhaps the most confusing of Tavares albums, though certainly with some fine moments. 

They say you can never go back home, and New Directions proved that with Tavares' teaming with the Grand Slam group. This time around Perren's fingerprints were nowhere to be found, as Tavares was relegated second teamer Ric Wyatt and a couple DOA dance cuts ("Got to Find My Way Back To You" and "Maybe We'll Fall In Love Again") that opened the uptempo side of the disc.  In fact, only the cover of Rene & Angela's "Wanna Be Close To You" (not surprisingly, produced by legendary arranger Benjamin Wright) provided any salvation for that side of the disc. Fortunately, all was not lost: While Nolan was known largely as a syrupy writer and producer (his "I Like Dreaming" and "Love's Grown Deep" rate among the treacliest songs of the 70s), his fairly standard pop ballads on New Directions became the highlights of the disc.  "Penny For Your Thoughts" developed into the last Tavares top 40 hit and earned the group a Grammy nod, and "Abra-Ca-Dabra Love You Too" was an able follow up. Even better, though, was the piano-led ballad, "Mystery Lady," a Quiet Storm staple that is undoubtedly the best cut on the album and one that sounds even better digitized on the reissued disc.  While there was a certain irony that three years after confounding their disco fans by issuing the soul-drenched Madam Butterfly, Tavares was now releasing what RCA boasted as "brown eyed pop," to their credit the Tavares brothers showed impressive versatility, sounding convincing and harmonizing exquisitely throughout New Directions.

New Directions didn't cause the critical or commercial rebound that Tavares had hoped for (it was only a mild charter), and it became clear that the group was on a downward trajectory on the disc, one that would reach its inevitable nadir the next year on Words And Music, their last major label recording.  But despite the lack of clear vision or first tier partners, the Tavares brothers' typically professional, vocally solid performance on New Directions ultimately makes this collection of lesser material sound quite enjoyable, if not essential. Moderately Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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