Johnny Mathis

Life Is a Song Worth Singing: The Complete Thom Bell Sessions

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During the first half of the 2010s, an assortment of Johnny Mathis reissues reached the market, including a thorough documentation of the singer's 1963-1967 Mercury stint -- Legacy's The Complete Global Albums Collection -- and Funky Town Grooves' recirculation of three late-'70s albums. More active was Real Gone, a catalog label that released a sizeable chunk of Mathis' 1964-1967 Columbia albums through two-in-one sets. In 2015, Real Gone combined and expanded I'm Coming Home (1973) and Mathis Is... (1977), albums released a few years apart but connected by the involvement of Philly soul architect Thom Bell and his session musicians. Bell propagandized Columbia to produce Mathis, was eventually rewarded, and brought along songwriting partner Linda Creed to join him in co-composing almost all of the material. I'm Coming Home, previously reissued by Columbia in 2003, wasn't a pop success, but it did top Billboard's easy listening chart. Two singles were minor hits: the typically light but heartfelt title song, and the original recording of "Life Is a Song Worth Singing" (covered five years later by Teddy Pendergrass), replete with an extended intro as dramatic as that of Billy Paul's "East." There's also a thoroughly finessed version of "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)." Mathis and Bell struck a fine balance between the singer's previous output and the most elegant aspects of the producer's Philly soul. Mathis Is..., available for the first time on CD here, was released just before Mathis and Deniece Williams topped the R&B chart with "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late." It was neither as successful nor as memorable as the 1973 album, perhaps due in part to Creed's absence. Most of the songs were new, not up to standard, and the recordings were pieced together in several studios. Most noteworthy is "Loving You-Losing You," another minor hit, which didn't take long to become known more as Phyllis Hyman's song -- her first major move for Buddah. This package, not merely slapped together like a typical two-on-one release, was clearly made with serious fans in mind. There's a handful of bonus tracks, including previously unreleased instrumental versions, and extensive liner notes.

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