New Smooth Soul Survivor - "Always There"

"Always There"  by Ronnie Laws and William Jeffrey

lawsWhen Ronnie Laws sat down with William Jeffrey to write the song ‘Always There' the chances were he was not looking beyond his 1975 debut release ‘Pressure Sensitive' on which the track can be found.  The story behind how ‘Always There' went on to become a club classic and a genuine Smooth Soul Survivor is an interesting one that owes much to the acid jazz movement prevalent in the UK during the early nineties.  Ostensibly an instrumental in its original form ‘Always There' provided the platform for Laws' urgent sax but did contain a smattering of background vocals.  These came courtesy of the band Side Effect, far more than a group of session singers, who were already forging a recording career of their own.  When they went into the studio in 1976 to record what arguably proved to be their best ever record, ‘What You Need', they included ‘Always There' that, by then, had acquired vocals written by Paul Allen.

A major element of what made ‘What You Need' special was the powerful vocals of lead singer Helen Lowe yet the album became notable for the fact that it was the only one on which Lowe appeared with the band.  By the time they cut their follow up, ‘Goin Bananas', in 1978 Lowe had been replaced by Sylvia St James and although Side Effect continued to record into the eighties their time has passed.  A retrospective of some of their best tunes titled ‘In Full Effect' was issued in 2003.

‘Always There' was now out there a vocal pile driver and it was only going to be a matter of time until someone else picked up on it.  However, it wasn't until the early nineties when acid jazz innovators Incognito discovered the tune that things really started to happen.  With a penchant that has developed through time for including a variety of guest singers, Incognito has continued to push the envelope of its own brand of jazz tinged soul and their choice of Jocelyn Brown to handle vocals on ‘Always There' was nothing sort of inspired.  Brown's truly breathtaking urgency made the song completely her own and led to its inclusion on her own 1999 ‘Hits' album.

Other notable covers in the acid jazz idiom include a version by Never Left that can be found on the 1994 release ‘US Dance Classics' and another from Avenue Blue featuring Jeff Golub from their 1997 CD ‘Nightlife'.  An interesting interpretation can be found by Rick Braun on the 2000 compilation ‘30 Years Of Montreux Jazz Festival' but most pleasing of all is perhaps Incognito's own reworking of the number on their current release ‘Bees+ Things+ Flowers'.  Deconstructing the tune to its basic elements and allowing Jocelyn Brown to sing in unfamiliar falsetto tones they effortlessly turn this club classic into a thing of beauty.

‘Always There' is a true Smooth Soul Survivor and one which will undoubtedly continue to feature in the years to come.

By Denis Poole

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