Terry Callier

Fire on Ice

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Fire on Ice is easily the most confounding album of Terry Callier's career. While it's true that his Elektra recordings are not regarded as highly as the Cadet material, it may be time to critically re-evaluate them for their considerable worth and innovation. That said, it's hard to know whom to blame for making a mess of what was arguably a solid album. It's not the slick arrangements -- done by longtime Callier cohort Richard Evans, nor is it the personnel, which includes tenor saxophonists Eddie Harris, Fred Jackson, guitarists Phil Upchurch and Larry Wade, and backing vocalist Minnie Ripperton. Callier's own songs are, for the most part, clean bedrock, deep Chicago soul slicked up for the onrushing disco age. The funky soul edge is fine on tunes like "Be a Believer," and "Holdin' on to Your Love." And the slippery, shimmering synth on the ballads like "Butterfly" works because Callier's slightly smoky sweet voice caresses his accompaniment. As strings waft in to the center of the mix, swelling up above the other instruments, you can hear where Evans and Don Mizell got carried away trying to carry Callier into Salsoul orchestra territory. Combine that with complete filler material like "Disco in the Sky" and the overwrought loungey smooth disco jazz of "I Been Doin' Alright, Part II (Everything's Gonna Be Alright)" and you see the schizophrenic influence of trying to accomplish too many things at once with Callier's awesome voice and tender lyrics. But given the fact that he wrote the lyrics to "Disco in the Sky" means he's not infallible. And who told Wade he could write a song on his own? "Love to Love" is just a staggeringly bad piece of disco garbage. Still, two of Callier's most moving tracks are here, the stunningly poetic "African Violet," with a melody as spare and haunting as anything Callier ever composed and a vocal workout that lasts over seven minutes it joins the list of his epics. The disc closes with the well-intentioned and phenomenally written "Martin St. Martin." Again, Evans' large horn and string sections with an artificial rhythm track mar what is a very powerful song -- it's one Callier still does live with an acoustic guitar and it never ceases to blow audiences away. Fire on Ice is far from Callier's most compelling record, but, nonetheless, has its own quark strangeness and charm.

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