The Jones Girls - We’re a Melody: The Essential Jones Girls (2020)

The Jones Girls
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The Jones Girls - We’re a Melody: The Essential Jones Girls

The Pointer Sisters and Sister Sledge are likely the first two family acts to come to mind when discussing 1970s and ‘80s girl groups. Both released a plethora of albums over several decades. The Jones Girls, originally from Detroit but closely identified with the Philadelphia soul sound, arguably came close to making as important of an impact in the R&B world—despite the fact that most of their commercially successful output happened within a three-year period.

The Jones Girls - We’re a Melody: The Essential Jones Girls

The Pointer Sisters and Sister Sledge are likely the first two family acts to come to mind when discussing 1970s and ‘80s girl groups. Both released a plethora of albums over several decades. The Jones Girls, originally from Detroit but closely identified with the Philadelphia soul sound, arguably came close to making as important of an impact in the R&B world—despite the fact that most of their commercially successful output happened within a three-year period.

Cutting a number of sides for labels big and small throughout the early ‘70s, the Joneses concurrently kept busy providing backing vocals for records and concerts, culminating with a three-year gig backing Diana Ross intercontinentally. Once legendary songwriters-producers/Philadelphia International Records founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff caught wind of their act, the three siblings were off to the races with a string of chart hits showcasing flawless vocal harmonies and strong melodies delivered with passion and grace.

“You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” “Nights over Egypt,” and “Who Can I Run To” made the biggest impact of The Jones Girls’ dozen singles released from 1979 to 1984; but Real Gone Music’s new two-disc collection, We’re a Melody: The Essential Jones Girls, provides the most comprehensive survey on disc yet of the ladies’ work during this time period, with a selection of 30 tracks demonstrating their at-once sophisticated and down-to-earth way with romantic ballads and groove-inducing uptempo numbers.

Many of the girls’ recordings were led by sister Shirley, who also went on to establish a solo career following the group’s break-up. Her glistening alto leads slow-jams like 1979’s “Who Can I Run To” (a B-side which experienced a second commercial life following Xscape’s 1995 cover version) and 1981’s “I Just Love the Man” crisply and dynamically. More than just adding in a few chorus riffs, sisters Brenda and Valorie (both now deceased) are an integral part of the proceedings on many key cuts. From the call and response affair of “(I Found) That Man of Mine” to the echo effects employed on “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” all three women’s talents are utilized engagingly and stylishly.

While it would not be until 1983’s On Target LP for RCA that the sisters’ leads were distributed more evenly, their prior trio of albums for Philadelphia International found them carving a unique balance different from the Pointer or Sledge approaches. It wasn’t necessary for one voice to be out front primarily to convey a signature sound, nor was a consistently shifting assignment of leads needed. Rather, the alternating between solo-driven tracks and group-led entries exhibited an inherent flexibility and diversity in each member’s tonal and dynamic capabilities.

Musically, The Jones Girls benefited from cream-of-the-crop composers, arrangers, and producers on all of the albums represented on We’re a Melody. Gamble & Huff, Dexter Wansel, Cynthia Biggs, and McKinley Jackson are a few of the staple talents who crafted the sound which holds up so firmly today when listening to the Joneses singing over funky beats and effortless slow jams. Fonzi Thornton, best known as longtime vocal contractor for Luther Vandross and a session singer for Chic, took over production duties for On Target with Robert Wright, resulting in a significantly modernized, synthified (but just as tight) sound design. The four tracks from that LP here span the enigmatic ballad “What a Fool” (co-led by Brenda and Shirley) to the percolating dancer “2 Win U Back.”

Just as many hidden nuggets are here from 1984’s Keep It Comin’, an album which Philadelphia International Records released shortly after On Target to capitalize on renewed interest in The Jones Girls after several years away from recording. The songs, such as “Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah” and “You Can’t Have My Love,” were recorded before their departure from PIR and are pure class. The former (penned by Keni Burke) has a celestial arrangement over which Brenda’s lead is angelic, while the latter finds Shirley perfectly in the pocket with the atmospheric get-down instrumental components.

Each disc of We’re a Melody is handsomely divided between uptempos and ballads. Disc One, which focuses mostly on the first three LP’s, explores the danceable territory on tracks one through eight, spanning (in addition to aforementioned groovers) the sweeping phrasing and lush strings of “Dance Turned into a Romance” to the unshakeable “Better Things to Do.” The latter half of the disc shines the spotlight on low-key album cuts like the timelessly relevant “At Peace with Woman” and “Children of the Night.”

Disc Two, aside from the previously noted tunes culled from Keep It Comin’ and On Target, features the gorgeous “I Close My Eyes,” as well as the full 12” version of “Who Can I Run To.” Closing the set, Mike Maurro’s 11-minute mix of “Nights over Egypt” is more instrumental than vocal, but is a nice touch for hardcore fans of the tune. It’s extra icing on the cake in a package that definitively clarifies the artistic versatility and vocal legacy of The Jones Girls. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 

 
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