Deniece Williams

Black Butterfly: The Essential Niecy

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Until 2016, Gonna Take a Miracle: The Best of Deniece Williams was the only decent Deniece Williams anthology. Issued in 1996, it left out a few of the singer's Top Ten R&B hits -- an example of how the capacity of a single compact disc can shortchange an artist's legacy. The U.K.'s BBR label has solved this problem with the two-disc Black Butterfly: The Essential Niecy. BBR previously expanded and reissued Williams' first seven solo albums, and they lengthen their reach here by choosing highlights from her duet work with Johnny Mathis and her latter '80s releases. Although it begins with "Free," Williams' stunning solo breakout from 1976, the sequencing emphasizes flow rather than chronology, and presents a narrative that is nonlinear yet easy to follow. All 27 of Williams' immaculately voiced singles that touched the Billboard R&B chart during a 14-year period are featured (often as single versions). They make an incontrovertible case for her as a distinctive top-tier pop-soul artist of the late '70s and '80s, whether she was working with Maurice White and Charles Stepney, David Foster, Thom Bell, or George Duke. For those familiar only with the hits, the eight deep album cuts -- highlighted by the delightful "The Boy I Left Behind," the sneak-attack outsize ballad "Why Can't We Fall in Love," and gospel phase precursor "God Is Amazing" -- provide a fuller picture. There's also Williams and Mathis' version of "Without Us," the Family Ties theme. True to BBR form, the booklet is substantial and informative, featuring a forward from Mathis and an interview with Williams. It all does justice to a rich body of work, one that has been undervalued by less serious R&B listeners and rock-oriented music historians, perhaps due in part to the singer's presence on small and big screens. Don't be misled.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 05:58
2 04:08
3 03:54
4 03:51
5 04:10
6 02:59
7 03:40
8 03:53
9 03:34
10 05:58
11 07:58
12 04:01
13 02:39
14 04:26
15 03:34
16 06:25
17 04:08
18 03:27
blue highlight denotes track pick