Whitney Houston - I Wish You Love: More from The Bodyguard (2017)

Whitney Houston
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Whitney Houston - I Wish You Love: More from The Bodyguard

Whitney Houston’s rapid ascent to R&B and pop superstardom in the mid-1980s was a remarkable feat for a debut artist. Although she had paid her dues singing on background sessions and at nightclub showcases, the across-the-board welcome she received in 1985 from radio disc jockeys and the record-buying public was an event that few artists of any generation have experienced. Her stellar pipes of strength and emotionally stirring methodology of delivering big ballads and dynamic dance numbers made continued best-sellers and industry accolades a given. But never before or since has any soul artist escalated an already hugely successful career to the magnanimous heights that Whitney did with a motion picture soundtrack as the vehicle.

Whitney Houston - I Wish You Love: More from The Bodyguard

Whitney Houston’s rapid ascent to R&B and pop superstardom in the mid-1980s was a remarkable feat for a debut artist. Although she had paid her dues singing on background sessions and at nightclub showcases, the across-the-board welcome she received in 1985 from radio disc jockeys and the record-buying public was an event that few artists of any generation have experienced. Her stellar pipes of strength and emotionally stirring methodology of delivering big ballads and dynamic dance numbers made continued best-sellers and industry accolades a given. But never before or since has any soul artist escalated an already hugely successful career to the magnanimous heights that Whitney did with a motion picture soundtrack as the vehicle.

The Bodyguard, an action-driven drama in which she starred with Kevin Costner, was intended to establish Houston as a credible actress. While it did give way to a series of well-received films led by her, there’s no question that the music she delivered as the soundtrack’s chief singer is what made, by far, the most lasting impression. The thought of her covering an early-‘70s Dolly Parton hit was about the furthest thing imaginable by mainstream standards; but it was that very unexpected stylistic choice which made for one of the most far-reaching and enduring moments in popular music history. Her heart-wrenching version of Parton’s 1974 #1 country single, “I Will Always Love You” (which she performed in the movie), sprinted to #1 in no less than 15 countries—spending 14 weeks at the top in the US alone, where it won just as many awards. It was Billboard’s #7-ranked song of the 1990s.

That was, however, just the beginning of the legacy of The Bodyguard. Whitney’s subsequent singles from the soundtrack sold more than a collective three million copies, while the album itself sold in excess of 45 million. Thus, Arista/Legacy’s new 14-track collection, I Wish You Love: More from The Bodyguard, is a more than merited release to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the movie and soundtrack. While the inclusion of no previously unheard material will undoubtedly disappoint many listeners, longtime and devoted fans will revel in the presence of alternate takes and sought-after live performances of the songs that have endured strongly through the decades.

I Wish You Love opens with the film version of “I Will Always Love You,” complete with Houston’s dialogue as performer Rachel Marron. Just like the title of this collection (culled from a line in “Always”), her spoken words here ring with strikingly sweet sorrow in the wake of her untimely passing in 2012. “When I first heard this song, it made me feel very sad. But it doesn’t anymore. Now it just reminds me of someone very special,” her voice echoes with heartfelt simplicity. Although the vocal take doesn’t differ greatly from the commercially released one, it is a shade more mellow in the verses—and the introductory words make it all the more soul-stirring. Similarly, the slightly less sweetened performance found in the film version of David Foster and Linda Thompson’s “I Have Nothing” captures Whitney’s vocal candor in a most affecting way.

What is perhaps the crowning jewel of I Wish You Love is the full-length a cappella version of the traditional hymn, “Jesus Loves Me.” In the film, Whitney harmonized on a brief portion with co-star Michele Lamar Richards (who portrayed the sister of Rachel Marron)—the audio of which is also included here. Hearing Whitney’s delicate treatment of the spiritual lyric sans the glossy production of the original soundtrack version is a shining example of both her gospel core and the ability she had to shift from belting to subtlety in a truly special way. The only drawback to the presentation here is the audibility of edits that were made to piece portions of different takes together into the final vocal production. A standard practice, but it does take away just a little bit from the purity of the experience.

Of the six live cuts featured, most are from Houston’s world tour in support of The Bodyguard. Each offers an important glimpse into the powerful stride that she had hit with the soundtrack, but the most significant one might just be that of the Jud Friedman/Allan Rich composition, “Run to You.” Though the single release of the pensive ballad didn’t chart as high as its predecessors, the live performance here is particularly notable in demonstrating Whitney’s graceful phrasing capabilities. As she didn’t include the number in many of her tour dates, it’s a treasure to hear now the melodic embellishments and tonal variations she made. That she didn’t have the pressure of delivering the tune in a singular fashion night after night may explain the refreshingly relaxed approach she employed on it.

Also enjoyable to hear after all this time is the live recording of “Queen of the Night,” a song which made for an energetic clip in the film, but was only released as a single in Europe and Japan. While the studio version bore more than a few marked similarities to En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” this performance—which is based a bit more on the club remix than the straight-ahead rock version—allowed Whitney to show more individuality in her swagger. The tight rhythm section and feisty backing vocalists add fuel to the fire. Similarly, the percussive groove and Houston’s vocal sway on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” may not be quite as polished as on record, but are invigorating in flair and pizazz.

Movie-goers who flocked to cinemas in 1992 to see The Bodyguard on the premise of Houston’s starring role will delight in the unmistakable concentration of her primary role in the soundtrack given by I Wish You Love.  As the original album contained six tracks by other artists, this new collection is a chance to relish the aura and power that she alone brought to the table with her six recordings. Since they are now presented both as they were in the movie and as she performed them  on stages around the world during the height of their popularity, it’s a chance to listen to Whitney in a peak period and relive seeing her screen debut—without any visual aids. The musicality of the songs and her delivery of them is a testament to true heart and soul. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 
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