Temptations - Truly for You (reissue)

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    As the 1980s arrived, the Temptations were considered DOA. After a long slow decline on Motown followed by two overlooked albums on Atlantic, the group that had rightly earned the crown as the greatest male R&B group of all time was reduced to an oldies act, with only two original members and no hits left in the tank. Then Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. personally resuscitated the group at Motown (including previously departed lead singer Dennis Edwards) and fashioned a comeback in the muscular song "Power" and a fine accompanying album. The Tempts appeared to be back.

    Unfortunately, over the next few years, seemingly ideal teamings of the group with legendary producers Thom Bell (the Spinners), Dennis Lambert (the Four Tops) and even the former Temptations hitmaker Norman Whitfield all disappointed. And by 1984 the Temptations (with Edwards again gone and falsetto lead Glenn Leonard leaving right behind him) appeared to be on life support again.

    As the 1980s arrived, the Temptations were considered DOA. After a long slow decline on Motown followed by two overlooked albums on Atlantic, the group that had rightly earned the crown as the greatest male R&B group of all time was reduced to an oldies act, with only two original members and no hits left in the tank. Then Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. personally resuscitated the group at Motown (including previously departed lead singer Dennis Edwards) and fashioned a comeback in the muscular song "Power" and a fine accompanying album. The Tempts appeared to be back.

    Unfortunately, over the next few years, seemingly ideal teamings of the group with legendary producers Thom Bell (the Spinners), Dennis Lambert (the Four Tops) and even the former Temptations hitmaker Norman Whitfield all disappointed. And by 1984 the Temptations (with Edwards again gone and falsetto lead Glenn Leonard leaving right behind him) appeared to be on life support again. So the signings of journeyman singer Ali Ollie Woodson and singer/songwriter Ron Tyson to fill the group's two most visible spots didn't exactly make front page headlines. And the teaming of the Tempts with Earth Wind & Fire guitarist Al McKay (who had had only moderate success working over the previous year with Carl Anderson and Star Search winner Durell Coleman) seemed less than a sure fire plan. So who would have thought that the combination of these new elements would result in perhaps the finest album of 1984?

    With the new singers up front and a completely new sound, Truly For You was essentially a debut album for a group with a very familiar name. While previous attempts to modernize the Temptations' sound over the prior decade had often suffered from subpar material, the selections for the new disc were inspired, drawn from a wide variety of songwriters or, in the case of the first single, "Treat Her Like a Lady," from within the group (new member Woodson). The lush ballad title track was Tyson's coming out, showing him to be another in a string of great falsetto leads for the group, less assuming in his delivery than Eddie Kendricks but with a sweetness to his voice that worked perfectly with the group's always-solid harmonies. He went on to become the second longest tenured member in the group's history (26 years and still running) and the voice behind several future Temptations hits.

    But the real revelation was Woodson. A virtual unknown prior to his signing by the Tempts (he had been a fill in for post-peak versions of the Drifters and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes), his voice was an amazing instrument, combining the soulful growl of David Ruffin with the effortless falsetto of the Spinners' John Edwards. And he gobbled up the upbeat "Treat Her Like a Lady," giving the group its biggest R&B hit in years. Maybe even more fun, though, was his versatile handling of the bouncy "Memories," and his terrific takes on the funky "Set Your Love Right" and the mid-tempo "How Can You Say It's Over." He arose as not only one of the great singers in Temptations history, but one of the handful of truly seminal soul singers of the era --- all on his first disc as a Temptation. He was an on-and-off member of the group for the next 12 years, with even more memorable performances, before leaving the act for good in 1996.

    Truly for You closed with the Richard Street-led inspirational number, "Keep A Light In My Window," a great song of humanity that presaged We Are the World and that provided a near-perfect finish to a near-perfect album.

    Truly set the stage for a number of strong follow-up albums (again, with different producers) before the group's breakout in 1997 with Phoenix Rising. But for my money, nothing during their prior 10 years or in the two and a half decades since Truly For You has approached the pure, unadulterated, left field joy that this album brought to Temptations fans. Those who have this disc cherish it, and those who don't need to find it - now. Very Highly Recommended.

    By Chris Rizik

     
    Featured Album - ASCENDANT - Illuminate: Yellow
    Choice Cut - Fred Reed - "Tug Of War"