Monday, January 5, 2009

Diana Ross Revisited in '08 (and '09?)

Hip-O-Select is reaching back and reaching out to touch on Diana Ross' work.
Initially, this resurrection began two years earlier with Motown unearthing the Blue LP in 2006. Recorded during the Lady Sings the Blues era of Ross' career, the collection of intimate Billie Holiday readings laid unreleased. Upon being unveiled, praise by critics and fans alike ensued. Hip-O-Select took it to the next level in 2007 with Ross' seventh LP Last Time I Saw Him (1973), which was the first time the record had been issued on disc in America.

This year, both her second and third LPs respectively, Everything Is Everything (1970) and Surrender (1971) were reissued. As before with Last Time I Saw Him, this was the first time her second and third solo LPs would be issued on CD in the States. Only several other key Motown LPs by Ross are left to be reapproached, among them Diana Ross (1976) and Baby, It's Me, (1977). Hip-O-Select will hopefully breathe life into them as well. With this milestone for Ross, it made me think of a particular review by Ron Wynn of All Music Guide. Wynn made an often inaccurate, but popular sentiment of Ross' recorded output on his review of Surrender:

A nice early-'70s date from Diana Ross, who at that time was unaffected by her diva/show business persona and was sticking to singing. She turned in effective, unadorned, soulful leads on several songs, with the title tune cracking the R&B Top 20 and pop Top 40. Ross would later turn to a more exaggerated, self-conscious, mock-sophisticate style, but on her early Motown albums, she retained the mix of innocence, anguish, and sexiness that made her a legendary vocalist.

Diana Ross has always had a level of showy schmaltz, clearly enjoyable enough during her Supremes days. Evidence of this can be seen and heard in The Supremes' performance of "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" on The Andy Williams Show dated January 22nd, 1967.* Included are the sequins, coif, and spoken word ethos that would string throughout Ross' entire career. Her sincerity has always shone through, and no gown or glitz could deny her emotional relevance or depth.

The point is that Ross' overall discography is just beginning to get its due now, despite such unfortunate assumptions like those of Mr. Wynn.Not unlike her contemporaries Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Donna Summer, and Chaka Khan, Ross' discography tends to be dissected in clusters or periods, from there it is stated that Ross' records lose something after 1973 or 1980. Clearly erroneous, this overview must be remedied through immersion in her entire recorded output versus select entries.

Upon initial release, despite a few commercial bright spots in the singles, the recently reissued batch from her early years were deemed commercial disappointments. Yet, the obvious jazz oriented soul-pop fare from Everything Is Everything cannot be resisted. Her first U.K. chart topper "I'm Still Waiting" is a study in Ross' interpretative elegance, only perfected with time. The smooth, effortless flirtation of "Baby, It's Love" is sexy. She's funky on The Beatles classic "Come Together," guiding the musical hurricane of funk with ease. The definitely more soul steeped Surrender yielded its treasures in the showstopping title track. She brought angst and life to the moody of "I Can't Give Back the Love I Feel For You," or the underappreciated "Reach Out, I'll Be There." The twinkling innocence of "I'll Settle For You," the type of song that only Diana Ross could express, none of her previously mentioned contemporaries could manifest the same magic.

Not that Diana Ross' work is without failure, it has its spotty moments, the mark of an interpreter.   2009 should bring more Ross remasters for the remainder of the few Motown records she has left. Another CD issue of her classic debut wouldn't hurt either, as it is becoming scarce on CD just seven years after its 2002 issue. Acquaint yourselves to the stylish, but affirming sounds of Diana Ross.-QH

[Editor's Note: *That performance is available on the domestic DVD release of "The Supremes: Reflections: The Definitive Performances 1964-1969," Everything Is Everything and Surrender available via, Amazon, iTunes, and your local indepedent record retailers.-QH]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article is nice, but also contains inaccuracies about releases of CD versions of Ross's other '70s albums mentioned, such as "Diana Ross" and "Surrender." Actually, these had already been released in the United States during the 1990s, in various, several double-CD releases that Motown put out at that time. In fact, the 1976 "Diana Ross" has already been issued by Motown as a single CD in the '90s. Perhaps the author was referring to the reissue label here not having yet re-released these particular CDs yet in remastered formats with additional previously unreleased material included, as has occurred with the other mentioned recently remastered re-releases.