Sheree Brown

'83

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Over 20 years on, the trademark, spacy, smoothly percussive acoustic guitar strum slips in and out of the mix, and the sheer enthusiasm and joy in Sheree Brown's sweet scatty soul delivery is untouched by the passage of time. Brown's vocal range, as displayed on her two Capitol outings -- 1981's Straight Ahead and 1982's The Music -- is one of the more disciplined and distinctive in post-'70s soul. Like Patrice Rushen, Angela Bofill, and Syreeta, her original songs have always skirted the edges of funk, jazz, and classic and modern uptown soul. Issued on her own Brown Baby Entertainment label, '83 contains plenty of what made Brown such a delight in the 1980s: the sultry, simmering phrasing, the throaty deep soul moan, the shimmering falsetto, and that guitar. Her skills as a songsmith are still razor sharp; too they are brimming with spirituality and a positive vibe. As commitment-oriented love and gospel songs, they are a welcome contrast to the "baby, at any cost I'll possess you" tomes of many of the neo-soul generation. In "Grown Folk Blues," she offers slices of a life lived in gratitude for its complexity and delight as well as its sufferings: "I got the grown-folks blues, baby/But it's not the sad blues/It's a sky blues/I've paid my dues, baby/But it's not sad/It's a sky blues." This is the underlying theme on the disc. Musicologist and mixologist Gareth Trinidad is her collaborator; he mixed, looped, and programmed almost everything not done by Sheree herself. His view is organic, and true, rooted in the heart of classic funky soul. The opening two songs -- "I'd Rather Be in Love With You" and "It's a Pleasure" -- or later on "I Just Don't Get It," with its cheesy disco drum machine pings, are where the production gets in the way. The reliance on beat and bassline is so great her trademark acoustic guitar playing -- so unusual and rhythmically compelling -- is lost in the loop-heavy mix. Elsewhere it's just right, as on the gospel tune "I Love You," and the Eastern-tinged "When Water Flows," which Brown wrote with co-producers/arrangers Terry Dennis and Steve Cohen. "Day Crazy" has a great spare groove and percussive sonics that leads the vocal onto the ledge without pushing it off. But it is "Little Boy Blues" with spare arrangements and truly moving and dignified delivery that is the album's true standout. While you can wonder what these songs would have sounded like with just a conga player and an upright bass player accompanying her guitar and voice on them, what you have is '83, a fine return for the inimitable Sheree Brown. Recommended.

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