Friday, June 27, 2008

Jody Watley's "Affection" Toward Independence

Jody Watley's departure from MCA Records in 1994, after seven years of recording there, can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. Watley was free to pursue (without interference) her creative paths into music. Watley set-up her own independent imprint Avitone Records and went about recording her fifth LP, Affection.

In her 1996 retrospective collection Jody Watley: Greatest Hits, Watley described her inventive passions, commercial frustrations, and possible fan confusion: "(There) had been a major change in my life...it reflected my evolution as a woman, an artist, and a writer who was still growing. Jheryl Busby* was gone, and I lacked someone at the record company who understood my vision, where I was trying to go. Every artist needs that. I was trying to capture the warmth of music from the '70's, to get more into that classic soul vein. The side of me influenced by Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye was starting to come out, so it (Affairs of the Heart) wasn't as danceable as the previous two albums. I might have confused some fans."

In addition to pairing with producer Derrick Edmonson, an eclectic assemblage of musical talent gathered for Affection: Angelo Earl (acoustic & electric guitars), Dwight Sills, Morris O'Connor (acoustic guitar, guitar) Glenn "Arthur" McKinney (guitar, keyboards), Tory Ruffin (guitar), Lily Haydn (violin), Keith Crouch (strings, Moog synthesizer, drums), David Jackson (accordion), Rodney Lee (Fender Rhodes, keyboards), Dwight Sills (guitar), Stan Sargent, Felton Cole, Jr. (bass), Brannen Temple (drums), Dirk "Masta C" Brown (vinyl scratches), Yvette Cason and Tammy Sales (background vocals).

Affection had similar aims that Affairs of the Heart and Intimacy did by splicing retro and contemporary black music flairs. However, Affection was very terra firma in its R&B presentation as apparent in the striking sprawl of "The Ways (Parts 1 & 2)." Two movements, the first a sensual narrative, the second an instrumental free-for-all, merged into a conduit of heavy funk. Starting with a steady drum pop, the door was kicked down as Watley painted over the percussive force with the steamy lyric: "It's the way he moves it. Oh, you like the way he...funks."

Treks throughout Affection revealed the hazy and funked up reworking of "Together" from Intimacy as "(We Gotta Be) Together." It retained its Quiet Storm burn, but with the tempo knocked up a few notches. Still present as a songwriter there was "Faithful," its strength left the other ballads on the album as pretty, but ineffective next to Watley's plea of monogamy, understanding, and respect.

 Recorded live in 1994 at the Osaka Blue Note in Japan, a return to her first hit "Looking For a New Love" featured as a bonus track. Sexy and strong still, it was playful when Watley quipped "I kept the ring!" in this rendition. The title track, and lead single, started with Watley leaving a message for producer Derrick Edmonson detailing her ideas for the song: "Make it a little sexy, a little funky, you know a little Sade, a little James Brown, and a little Miss Jody Watley, and fill in the blanks." Watley then began to beatbox where Edmonson segued into sun bathed beat-bursts. Over this spunky R&B fantasy, Watley preached love beyond the physical, something a bit more spiritual, and that it didn't matter if you're "young or old, straight or gay." Watley, a staunch GLBT supporter, later recalled the initial heat served to her when "Affection" was shipped to black radio in 1995: “I encountered complaints because of the word "gay," I didn't write it as a marketing tool, I meant it. A black artist unafraid to promote tolerance. What a concept.”

Watley steadied on releasing the album on July 15th, 1995 with distribution handled by Bellmark Records. The record didn't relieve her prior commercial descent, but got a warm welcome from critics and fans. All Music Guide writer Jose F. Promis described Affection: "This is a fine, quality album, entirely undeserving of the fate it received."
The record landed on the U.S Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop chart at #59, the title track single hit #28 on the U.S R&B singles side. The record didn't appear on the U.S Billboard 200 at all disappointingly.

 Watley continued to release albums to acclaim post-Affection: Flower (1998), Saturday Night Experience (1999), Midnight Lounge (2003), and The Makeover (2006). Affection offered a collection of stylized R&B thanks to Watley's attention to detail in her craft. It also cemented her status as the only "Lady of Progressive R&B" with another proud addition to her discography. Three and a half stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: *Jheryl Busby was one of the major executives at MCA Records during the mid-to-late 1980's and helped get Watley onto MCA.  Affection isn't in print but can be found at many used  or online music retailers for a decent price. For more current information on Jody Watley visit: Jody Watley Offical.-QH]

2 comments:

S. Flemming said...

This wasn't one of my favorites by her, but it was OK. I remember being lukewarm on it when I picked it up back in the day. I still remember her interview with Donnie Simpson when this came out, and how she put Howard Hewitt on blast about the Shalamar shit, LOL. Hilarious. But the fact that she even said "gay" when a lot of of closed-minded black folks still won't says a lot.

DaSensualist said...

Nice entry. I always liked Jody Watley, but didn't start really getting into her until 2005 when I purchased 'Midnight Lounge' on a whim. So in love did I fall with the record, that I plunged headlong into Watley's back catalouge, including 'Affection.' My favorite track is definitely "The Way (Pts 1 & 2).