The Shirelles were one of the first great acts of the girl group era, scoring a hit with "I Met Him on a Sunday" in 1958, and their blend of pop songcraft, R&B flavor, and doo wop vocal stylings would be massively influential through the '60s. However, by 1970, the style of the Shirelles' original hits wasn't making much impact on the charts, and this release pairs up two albums from the early '70s as they were trying to make their way back into the hit parade with a more contemporary approach. Released in 1971, Happy and in Love featured Shirley Alston, Micki Harris, and Beverly Lee (the first two were founding members of the group) accompanied by early-'70s-style smooth soul arrangements, and though "Go Away and Find Yourself" and "It's Gonna Take a Miracle" fuse the feel of their classic style with updated production and instrumentation, the opening cover of the Guess Who's "No Sugar Tonight" is an ill-advised left turn into funk that falls flat. The Shirelles also update their hit "Dedicated to the One I Love" with uneven results, and more than 12 years away from their first hit, Happy and in Love revealed Alston (who takes the lead vocals on these albums), Harris, and Lee were all in fine voice, but seemingly caught between the youthful themes and approach of their best-known tunes and the richer, more mature sound of these women. Issued in 1972, The Shirelles finds the trio sounding more comfortable with their surroundings, and their performances are professional, often inspired, and always on-point, but the album dials back a bit on contemporary soul and adds more of an easy listening feel as the group tackles a set heavy on covers performed in a manner that wouldn't have been out of place in a Las Vegas showroom or a big-city nightclub. The Shirelles make this work for them on their versions of a pair of Carole King numbers, "It's Going to Take Some Time" and "Walk on In," but the closing medley of songs from Marvin Gaye's groundbreaking What's Going On sounds sadly toothless compared to the originals. While these two albums are mostly of interest to Shirelles completists and '70s soul fanatics, Real Gone Records have done a great job with the reissue, which sounds crisp and well-detailed, with informative liner notes from David Cole and three non-LP tracks from singles as a bonus. If you're looking for the Shirelles' great hits, you won't find them here, but for fans who want to know what the group was doing after the end of the '60s, this is a good starting point.
Happy and in Love/Shirelles Review
by Mark Deming