Tavares - Words and Music (Reissue) (2012)

Tavares
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By the time Tavares issued 1983's Words and Music, now being reissued by the FunkyTownGrooves label, it was a group on the ropes. In just five years, the five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts had gone from the toast of the R&B world -- labeled a "supergroup" by Rhythm & Blues magazine -- to becoming a low priority act down to its last swing at the plate on a mediocre label. The quintet had struggled on its final few albums on Capitol  Records (a company that had been very good to them during a 10 year relationship), and made the ill-advised 1982 decision to leave the label and long-time manager Brian Panella, signing with RCA's fledgling R&B division and the Jacksons' management team Weisner and DeMann.

By the time Tavares issued 1983's Words and Music, now being reissued by the FunkyTownGrooves label, it was a group on the ropes. In just five years, the five brothers from New Bedford, Massachusetts had gone from the toast of the R&B world -- labeled a "supergroup" by Rhythm & Blues magazine -- to becoming a low priority act down to its last swing at the plate on a mediocre label. The quintet had struggled on its final few albums on Capitol  Records (a company that had been very good to them during a 10 year relationship), and made the ill-advised 1982 decision to leave the label and long-time manager Brian Panella, signing with RCA's fledgling R&B division and the Jacksons' management team Weisner and DeMann.

The initial project under the new arrangement was New Directions, a creative head-scratcher that found the group teaming with the faltering Freddie Perren-led Grand Slam productions team (three years after that team's peak work with Gloria Gaynor and Peaches & Herb) and syrupy pop writer/producer Kenny Nolan ("I Like Dreaming").  The result was a combination of second tier dance cuts and tame pop ballads that did neither the group's legacy nor its future viability much good. However, the single "Penny For Your Thoughts" eeked into the Top 40 and even received a Grammy nomination, giving Tavares one more recording shot on RCA with Words and Music. Shockingly, the group doubled-down on the New Directions formula, bringing back Grand Slam and Nolan, while also boarding talent from the hot SOLAR label.  Unfortunately, while Tavares in 1978 would have received major attention from top producers, by 1983 they were getting the second team: Grand Slam leader Freddie Perren was nowhere to be found on Words, with protege Rick Wyatt taking the boards, and SOLAR star producer Leon Sylvers (the Whispers, Shalamar) only stopped by for a cup of coffee, leaving the heavy lifting to labelmate Dana Meyers.  

The album opened with Sylvers' one contribution, "Ten to One," a faceless, generic funk track that was a clear mismatch for the group and a surprisingly weak introduction to the disc. Meyers proved a much better fit, delivering the terrific dance number, "Deeper In Love" (Tavares' last R&B top 10 hit), as well as the edgy funk-rock number, "Caught Short," before closing side one with the enjoyable, if fairly typical, SOLAR midtempo, "(You're) My All In All." Unfortunately, the promise of Side One of the album evaporated soon after the flip. While Side Two opened with the treacly but tuneful title track (a ballad that became a moderate R&B charter and a surprising concert favorite), the three Rick Wyatt electronic dance contributions that followed were among the weakest tracks Tavares ever recorded -- and they have aged even worse. The LP then ended in a whimper via Nolan's forgettable pop ballad, "All In All." 

The repeated rap on Tavares was that it was a "producer's group," with the quintet's sound changing (sometimes startlingly) from disc to disc depending on the producer with whom the act teamed.  While that was an unfair label -- group members both wrote and produced at various times, particularly on the exceptional album Love Uprising -- it proved to be the case on Words and Music, a schizophrenic album that had three distinct approaches (two of them flawed) that make it frustratingly incongruous as a whole and an unfortunate closing to the career discography of one of the 70s most consistent recording acts. Words and Music is not an essential album by any means, but it has importance as the last major Tavares release. And despite the creative missteps on the disc, a Tavares album is a Tavares album because of the group's always terrific harmonies and alternating lead vocals, and the vocal performances on Words, along with Meyers' notable contributions, create just enough memorable moments to make the disc Mildly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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