The Undisputed Truth - Truth Gon' Set You Free

The Undisputed Truth
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The Undisputed Truth - Truth Gon' Set You Free

I admit that my knowledge of the work of The Undisputed Truth began and ended with their 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” one of the classic songs of 1970s Motown and one of the great message songs of any era.

Yet, the band continued to make records and achieve most chart success throughout the 1970s, with Joe Harris being the one constant in a group that had a rotating roster of members that grew from three (Harris along with Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce) to as many as five. So, this review allowed me to reintroduce and introduce myself to the group’s body of work, and I realized that like many bands called one hit wonders, that label really does not do The Undisputed Truth justice.

The Undisputed Truth - Truth Gon' Set You Free

I admit that my knowledge of the work of The Undisputed Truth began and ended with their 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” one of the classic songs of 1970s Motown and one of the great message songs of any era.

Yet, the band continued to make records and achieve most chart success throughout the 1970s, with Joe Harris being the one constant in a group that had a rotating roster of members that grew from three (Harris along with Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce) to as many as five. So, this review allowed me to reintroduce and introduce myself to the group’s body of work, and I realized that like many bands called one hit wonders, that label really does not do The Undisputed Truth justice.

The group recorded constantly in the 1970s, and the story of their lack of top 10 or 20 success might be as much a result of business decisions and shifting musical tastes than the quality of their music. The Undisputed Truth of the early 1970s had a sound that featured the psychedelic soul that had been crafted by Norman Whitfield who used the same formula for his most famous clients, the Temptations.

Later in the 1970s, The Undisputed Truth became a funk band, and although records such as their 1976 project Method to the Madness were pretty good, the funk band lane was pretty full. The group disbanded in the early 1980s, but never went away. Harris continued to work and reconstituted The Undisputed Truth in the early 1990s, and now the group returns with a new album, titled The Truth Gon’ Set You Free.

While the 21st Century group is a quartet rather than a trio, Harris – the one constant – has brought back the sound that gave The Undisputed Truth its greatest success. He is the sole male surrounded by three female vocalists – BJ Evans, Dazee Love and Jaki G. Thematically, the album marks a return to that early 1970s format of message songs, ballads and a couple cover tunes – in this case “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and Donny Hathaway’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

Harris’s vocals retain that phrasing that adds a sense of ministerial authority to message songs like the title track and “You Can’t Run From Yourself,” a number that shares much with the group’s most famous song both in terms of its psychedelic soul feel and the message of being honest. In this case, Harris asks listeners to look within and to be honest with themselves.

The two remakes are straight forward and well-done. However, the staying power rests with the originals, and particularly the album’s three ballads, “Butterflies” (the lead single), the duet “What Good Is Love” and “Metamorphosis.” The latter song boasts a slow and smooth R&B tempo that swims on a jazzy bass line and a Harmon muted trumpet on a tune that focuses on couples looking to make sure that the changes that occur in a relationship are for the better.

It was always unfair that The Undisputed Truth’s story was narrowed down to one song – no matter how great that song is. The story continues on their latest project, The Truth Gon’ Set Free. The performance by Harris and his three co-stars shows that there are many more truths to tell. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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