Dennis Coffey

Motor City Magic

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Guitarist Dennis Coffey's reputation as a Motown session man gone into contemporary jazz and early R&B-flavored jazz was cemented by the time this 1986 recording -- one of the first to be produced digitally -- was completed. As all of his other records are out of print and extremely rare, you may find this one available and more accessible for the smooth jazz or quiet storm crown. As Coffey's initial appeal was that as a contributor more than a leader, this album holds his sound in the instrumental pop vein on mostly acoustic guitar, with a little amplified electric on select tracks. Indicative of the post-disco pre-smooth era, Coffey is in many ways ahead of the curve for the popularized commercial "jazz" music to come, and along with fellow Detroiters Earl Klugh and Lyman Woodard, set a certain standard for this type of watered-down but definitely soulful urban music. Where songs like "Still in Love" combine basic R&B with tick-tock and Latin rhythms, "These Dreams" is a more George Duke synthesizer-laden tune with Coffey's plucked and popping guitar, "Don't Let Go" is pure pop-jazz, and "Lonely Nights" is pure sugar-coated seduction music. Surprisingly, Coffey can swing, as on the walking "What It Is," a basic but synthesized street strut, while "Standing Room Only" is harder-edged disco-funk and the title track is midtempo theme music, cool and bad. Where Coffey truly lives is on the instrumental cover of the Miracles' classic hit "The Tracks of My Tears," a fine and faithful read of this well-loved melody about ultimate heartbreak. Historians will note the participation of such fellow Motown sessioneers as drummer Uriel Jones and the great keyboardist Earl Van Riper. Eminem collaborator Luis Resto plays synths and does arrangements, while top-notch percussion is provided by Larry Fratangelo and Lorenzo Brown (the Lyman Woodard connection). Other recordings by Coffey may be more substantive, but where this one has a rare charm, it is also somewhat of a precedent-setter considering the style of music that followed.