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Monday, March 13, 2017

Barbara Lewis: Workin' On A Groovy Thing


1) I'll Keep Believin'; 2) Workin' On A Groovy Thing; 3) Make Me Your Baby; 4) Girls Need Loving Care; 5) I Remember The Feeling; 6) Baby What Do You Want Me To Do; 7) Make Me Belong To You; 8) Love Makes The World Go Round; 9) I'll Make Him Love Me; 10) Only All The Time; 11) Sho-Nuff (It's Got To Be Your Love); 12) Thankful For What I Got.

Well, one thing is for sure: Barbara's last LP for Atlantic sounds like a mix of industrial avant­garde and grindcore metal... next to It's Magic, that is. At the very least, they had the sense to tone down some of the sugary sweetness and give her a wee bit more of an R'n'B groove and a merry pop swing. They even allowed her to include one of her own songs at the end of the album (ʽThankfulʼ) — a nice gesture, considering that she'd been precluded from that since 1963; given that her own songwriting talents have always been comparable to those of the songwriters she had to cover, this discrimination was really uncomfortable.

That said, the record is still anything but great. Essentially, it is assembled from various singles stretching all the way back to 1965; the earliest inclusion is Helen Miller's ʽMake Me Your Babyʼ (already discussed in the previous review), and the next one, from 1966, is Billy Vera's ʽMake Me Belong To Youʼ, originally recorded by Helen Shapiro — as usual, Barbara's fragile and delicate voice puts the emphasis on vulnerability and pleading, where Shapiro's version was more of a power strike. ʽBaby What Do You Want Me To Doʼ is not the Jimmy Reed song, but a lush folk-pop tune written by Grant Higgins and featuring nothing but atmosphere (Barbara's voice, strings, and a quiet brass section should be enough for perfection, right?). Probably the catchiest number is the upbeat, jokey ʽOnly All The Timeʼ, with an unusually carnivalesque arrangement for Barbara, including ukulele, honky tonk piano, and trombone; and probably the best number is ʽSho-Nuffʼ, because it finally adds some real «bottom» to the music, with a strong bassline and an authentic R'n'B feel (unfortunately, one that also calls for a more powerful singer).

Anyway, the good news is that we are not emulating Doris Day any more; the bad news is that all of this is still quite formulaic, and the songs are almost never memorable. It remains unclear if we should thank Atlantic for loyally protecting Barbara throughout all that decade, or if we should accuse them of underplaying her talents, saddling her with inferior material, and not letting her develop as an original songwriter — regardless, the fact is that they finally let her go after this record, which, honestly, sounded about as «modern» even by the contemporary standards of mainstream R&B in 1968 as would a blues record by, say, Alberta Hunter. Surprisingly, though, the story does not end then and there, as there was one last chapter to it.

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