Tavares - Supercharged (Reissue) (2012)

Tavares
Tavares Supercharged.jpg

In the midst of the disco explosion and fresh off their participation in that genre’s quintessential moment, the movie Saturday Night Fever, the five Tavares brothers broke ranks with their peers and made a conscious effort to move back to their R&B roots on their 1979 album, Madam Butterfly.  Produced by Philly veteran Bobby Martin (LTD, the Manhattans), the album featured a trio of brilliant ballads as well as the top 5 R&B hit, “Never Had a Love Like This Before,” and appeared to transition the brothers past the “disco group” label that had emerged via their smash hits with producer Freddie Perrin such as “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” and “More Than a Woman.”

In the midst of the disco explosion and fresh off their participation in that genre’s quintessential moment, the movie Saturday Night Fever, the five Tavares brothers broke ranks with their peers and made a conscious effort to move back to their R&B roots on their 1979 album, Madam Butterfly.  Produced by Philly veteran Bobby Martin (LTD, the Manhattans), the album featured a trio of brilliant ballads as well as the top 5 R&B hit, “Never Had a Love Like This Before,” and appeared to transition the brothers past the “disco group” label that had emerged via their smash hits with producer Freddie Perrin such as “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” and “More Than a Woman.”

But when Martin retired from the music industry after Madam Butterfly, Tavares was left without a strong plan for their follow up album.  History had shown that the Tavares brothers, working with manager Brian Panella, had an uncanny ability to find hot up-and-coming producers, and 1980’s Supercharged would be no exception, as the group teamed with future multiple Grammy Award winner David Foster (Chicago, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Josh Groban) and emerging producer/arranger Benjamin Wright (the Temptations, Gladys Knight), along with former Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby and longtime Little Anthony & the Imperials collaborator, Teddy Randazzo.  But the use of multiple producers was a meaningful change. Prior Tavares albums reflected the vision of a single producer (such as Perrin’s three full albums with the group or Lambert & Potter’s two) and the multiple-cook approach to Supercharged resulted in a collection of wildly disparate songs covering many styles – but yet an album that ultimately worked on its own terms.

The Tavares brothers always benefitted from having four legitimate lead singers in the group, and that came in handier than ever on the eclectic batch on songs on Supercharged.  So traditional lead singer Chubby Tavares could handle the jazzy funk of the lead single, “Bad Times,” but falsetto lead Butch, strong baritone singer Pooch and gritty-voiced Tiny all had their shots, too. 

Foster was still early in his career in 1980 and, while extremely talented, he was not yet nuanced as a producer. So he contributed the disc’s heaviest and most bombastic production on the noisy rock/funk hybrid, “I Don’t Want You Anymore” and the big ballad “We Both Tried,” with the group fighting (successfully) to rise above the over-the-top orchestration. This contrasted greatly with Randazzo’s contribution, the light, late night ballad, “Paradise,” a gentle wisp of a song that became a Tavares fan favorite. The key is, though, while the three songs sounded like the product of entirely different groups, they were great compositions and perhaps even better performances.

Maybe the most consistent production on the album came from Wright, who covered more traditional R&B sounds.  “I Just Can’t Go On Living Without You,” led by the gruff-voice Tiny, is a loping, laid back ballad that is enjoyable in its simplicity. Better yet is the sweet midtempo, “Why Can’t We Fall In Love,” a cover of a Deniece Williams album cut (ironically, co-written by Foster) that Butch handled beautifully and turned into the best moment on Supercharged.

By 1980, traditional R&B vocal groups like the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites were giving way to self-contained funk bands, and Tavares had trouble changing the perception that they were an act from the past.  But with Supercharged the five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts showed that they were going to go down fighting. They tested their own versatility on this disc, and showed they were more than capable. Supercharged was the least cohesive of the Tavares albums on Capitol Records, but it was nonetheless one of the more enjoyable. A collection of great songs in a variety of styles, it was like a “hits” package masked as a studio release, but is a disc that still wears well more than 30 years later. Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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