Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anita Baker - The Songstress

This week (May 31st) marks the thirtieth anniversary of The Songstress, the solo debut album from American R&B singer Anita Baker (prior to that, Baker was part of the Detroit-based band Chapter 8 who released a self-titled album in the fall of 1979). Her 1983 record was released by Beverly Glen Music and went to number 139 on the US Billboard Hot 200 and number 12 on the US Billboard R&B charts; in 1991 it was re-released when her new label Elektra acquired the rights.

Providing musical backup for Baker on the album were Nathan East (bass), Craig Cooper (guitar), Paul Jackson Jr. (guitar), James Macon (guitar), David T. Walker (guitar), Raymond Calhoun (drums), James Gadson (drums), and Patrick Moten (keyboards). Backing vocals included The Waters, James Gilstrap, Bunny Hull, Clydene Jackson, Phil Perry, and Carmen Twillie.

Side one opens with “Angel”, the second single from the album; it climbed all the way to number 5 on the US Billboard R&B chart. This mid-tempo tune has a light, dinner club jazz element.

“You’re the Best Thing Yet” was released as the third single and peaked at number 28 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

The tempo shifts up slightly with the next track. Released as the fourth single in 1984, “Feel the Need” only got as high as number 67 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

The up-beat “Squeeze Me” was chosen for the B-side to the third single. With a funky bass line and accent horns, this one has a danceable groove similar to a number of tracks on the Chapter 8 record. It is actually my favorite track of this first side.

Side two starts with “No More Tears”, a solemn vow to no longer let a broken heart rule. As the first single, it charted at number 49 on the US Billboard R&B chart and showcases her vocal chops quite well.

The B-side to the fourth single was “Sometimes”.

“Will You Be Mine” was released on the B-side to the first single; it too charted on the US Billboard R&B chart at number 87. I like the jazzy sounds of this one.

The album closes with the B-side to the second single “Do You Believe Me”. Like the side one closer, this one is more uptempo as well.

I find it interesting that all of The Songstress could have been picked up back in the day through 45’s if one had access to them. Back then, singles still cost around $1.25 each so the whole album could be had for a deal at $5; vinyl albums tended to run around $8 to $10.

Like many folks, I first discovered the stunning vocals of Anita Baker in the mid-80’s, when she broke through with her second album Rapture (click here for that review). However, I did not know The Songstress was her first until I saw it along with her next four album together in a single package at Best Buy this December. Twenty dollars for five albums was a great deal, especially since I had known two of them well from owning them on cassette ages ago.

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