Vocal Shades And Tones: Vinyl LPBEWITH153LP
Label: Be With Records
Release Date: 24th November
You're picking this up for 'Steam Heat' alone, a classic of mystic and cinematic smoky gospel funk, such a cool af swagger. This record isn't just about one digger's delight though, the rest of the album is a swinging jazz funk'n'blues soft psych banger.
Vocal Shades And Tones is a miraculous leftfield library classic from the genius mind of celebrated UK composer/singer/vocal arranger Barbara Moore. It's a heavenly groove-based blend of jazz, Latin, soft-psych, folk-funk and gospel soul. Recorded for the legendary Music De Wolfe in 1972, it's an audacious start-to-finish listen, as dizzying as it is dazzling. It's a perfect snapshot of a musical era, supported by Moore's glorious vocal arrangements. Widely regarded among collectors, DJs, and lounge/easy-listening acolytes as an absolute essential it is viewed as the holy grail by many production music heads, rarely appearing for sale and disappearing in a flash when it does. Indeed, originals now go for over £300 and it's easy to see why. Just one of the reasons why this fresh Be With reissue, part of a wider De Wolfe reissue campaign, is so utterly crucial.
Racing out the gate, the driving "Hot Heels" is a bright, sophisticated scat groove which sounds Brazilian, richly produced as if coming by the hand of Arthur Verocai. Yes, *that* good. It's followed by "It's Gospel" which is, er, a wonderfully slow and deeply soulful gospel treasure. The appropriately monikered "Steam Heat" is a darker, breathy gem, one for salacious crates and one of the record's most infamous tracks. "Fly Away" is pastoral West Coast soft rock, very much in conversation with John Cameron and Keith Mansfield's epochal KPM recording, Voices In Harmony. "His Name Was" is a stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks Beach Boys accapella church-organ stunner, whilst "Swing Over" is another carefree, richly produced sun-dappled smasher. The gentle Bossa and sunshine soul of the aptly-titled "Touch Of Warmth" closes out a virtually perfect A-Side.
The B-Side opens with the easy grace and dramatic build of "Voice Force Nine". The jaunty "Very Fine Fellow" may be the only track to slightly grate so we advise heading to the slower, moody "Shades-Tones", eminently more compelling with sparkling, hypnotic piano throughout, underpinning the gorgeous wordless vocals. Just beautiful. It was sampled by Redman for his Method Man-featuring "Do What Ya Feel" on the great Muddy Waters. We're back in Brazilian territory with the cool, uptempo "I'm Feather" before swooning to the warm, relaxed "Drifting", another total highlight which was famously sampled by Koushik on his legendary remix of Madvillain's "America's Most Blunted (Doom's Verse)". The penultimate track, "Take Off" is a bright, organ lounge groove before this remarkable set is rounded out by the beaty "Fly Paradise". It's so so good, it sounds like Rotary Connection fronted by The Mamas & the Papas. As noted in a recent Guardian article on Moore's life, "there is a plushness and electricity in the tight vocal harmonies that spring out, sung with the precision of cathedral choristers decades before Auto-Tune." Amen.
In the 1960s, Barbara Moore was a member of Top of the Pops’ resident vocal-harmony group, The Ladybirds and sang backing vocals for Dusty Springfield’s TV show. Her own outfit, the Barbara Moore Singers, were regulars on TOTP, singing with Jimi Hendrix when he performed "Hey Joe" live in Lime Grove Studios. An important detail for Moore was the shepherd’s pie she bought Hendrix when she found him alone, looking emaciated, near the BBC canteen. By 1970, she was working as a session singer for De Wolfe and, by 1972, was composing her own tracks for De Wolfe and working within their tight creative strictures. Each short track had to evoke an obvious mood and theme, with no significant key or tempo changes. Her response, this very album, managed to stay between the lines while cohering as an overarching artistic masterpiece.
The audio for Vocal Shades And Tones has been carefully remastered by Be With regular Simon Francis, ensuring this release sounds better than ever. Cicely Balston's expert skills have made sure nothing is lost in the cut whilst the records have been pressed to the highest possible standard at Record Industry in Holland. The original, iconic sleeve has been restored here at Be With HQ as the finishing touch to this long overdue re-issue.