Mathis Is

Johnny Mathis

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Mathis Is Review

by Joe Viglione

Superstar producer/arranger Thom Bell worked on Johnny Mathis' 1973 "I'm Coming Home" album, a ten-song project of material composed mostly by Bell and the late Linda Creed. Mathis then brought producer Jack Gold back for 1975's Feelings LP, worked with producer John Florez that same year for the When Will I See You Again disc, and reunited with Gold for I Only Have Eyes for You in 1976 and 1977's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me. For the most part, these mid-'70s collaborations played it safe, which makes Bell's return on 1978's Mathis Is an important but sadly forgotten event in Philly soul history. Casey James and Leroy Bell, the authors of Elton John's Grammy-nominated 1979 Top Ten hit, "Mama Can't Buy You Love," are on board here, only they do their co-writing on Mathis Is with the master, Thom Bell. The result is extraordinary music for both Mathis followers and fans of the Philly sound. MFSB are on board, as is guitarist Lee Ritenour and the conga player from the Janis Joplin Pearl album, Ms. Bobbye Hall. And they make some exquisite stuff. "Loving You, Losing You" is the essence of that Thom Bell sound, a co-write by Thom and Leroy Bell. Mathis, of course, made a point of adding the hit songs from this special genre to his repertoire. Gary Puckett & the Union Gap producer Jerry Fuller cut "Break Up to Make Up" with Mathis on 1973's Killing Me Softly With Her Song album, while John Florez recorded the Three Degrees' hit on the aforementioned When Will I See You Again. For those who adore the Spinners and Stylistics, the softer side of Bell's historic work, this effort is a dreamy mini-masterpiece. It's a shame Mathis didn't continue this notion over half a dozen albums or so, branching out from the safety of re-recording hits of the time and going back to the thing that made him so popular in the first place: his first-rate work with Percy Faith, Nelson Riddle, and Ray Conniff. Lou Rawls reinvented himself with the material from these geniuses from Philadelphia while Bobby Hebb and Johnny Mathis were involved, but didn't stay in the game long enough to be rewarded as richly as they should have been through the Thom Bell/Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff magic. This album has the elegance found on Elton John's "Mama Can't Buy You Love" without the drive; it is velvety, smooth and a perfect fit for Mathis' perfect voice. Urban adult contemporary as classy as the Delfonics. Very, very nice.

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