Curtis Mayfield

Heartbeat/Something to Believe In

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These two albums date from Curtis Mayfield and Curtom Records' association with the RSO label at the end of the disco era, and demonstrate the relatively hard times onto which Mayfield had fallen with the advent of that era. A thinking man's soul singer whose abilities combined the lyrical passions of Marvin Gaye with the musical range of Sam Cooke, Mayfield proved singularly unsuited to the disco era, at least on his own terms. Thus, for Heartbeat, he put himself in the hands of other producers -- Bunny Sigler and the Philadelphia team of Norman Harris and Ronnie Tyson -- for the first time in his career on seven of the ten songs, and the result was a first-rate disco album that got to number 42 on the pop charts and number 17 R&B, Mayfield's best-selling album in three years. It doesn't sound too much like Mayfield's best work, but it did get him some needed airplay just at the point where he and Curtom needed all the help they could get. The beat throughout is infectious, and Mayfield's vocalizing is impeccable, a match for his best work on any of his classic albums. The pounding disco arrangements (especially "What Is My Woman For?") are showy and so different from Mayfield's own true sound, that they are bound to offend some of his listeners -- this is sort of his equivalent to the Muddy Waters Electric Mud album, except it plays much better and Mayfield was able to perform some of this album's repertory in concert. Indeed, the beautifully lyrical ballad "Between You Baby and Me" -- one of only three Mayfield- produced tracks on the album, and the first studio duet between Mayfield and Linda Clifford -- led to a joint tour and a duet album for the two. Something to Believe In was the result of Heartbeat's success, a comeback for Mayfield in his own style, fully in his control. The album's sales success was limited, but its musical triumphs were myriad -- the beautiful "Something to Believe In," an extended track that is one of the most personal and ambitious records in Mayfield's whole output; the exquisite solo remakes of the Impressions hits "It's Alright" and "Never Let Me Go"; and the gorgeous ballad "Never Stop Loving Me," a sensual soul outing that provides a superb finish to the album. Strangely enough, the commercial single side "Love Me, Love Me Now" is one of the less impressive sides, on a production or composition level, among the seven tracks here. The sound on the two-CD reissue is better than excellent, though the reissue producers could probably have squeezed the two LP onto one CD with a little work.

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