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Roberta Kelly

Zodiac Lady

(Gold Legion; US: 4 Jan 2010; UK: Import)

Roberta Kelly’s Zodiac Lady is something of a buried treasure, if you like your treasures dripping with Cuban-cum-disco rhythms and album-length metaphors about astrology and romance. Translation: Its appeal is limited to those who prefer their disco served with a wink. Oh, but what a time Roberta Kelly has in store if you indulge her world of candy-swirl strings and razzle-dazzle horns!


Originally released on Casablanca in 1977, Zodiac Lady is a fun frolic through the mirrored walls of Euro disco. Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte delivered mostly solid production for Roberta Kelly in between their projects with Donna Summer. Frivolous in the very best sense of the word, the album barely traveled beyond discotheques and then faded into obscurity. However, serious crate diggers have kept Roberta Kelly’s name alive, and Zodiac Lady is finally back in circulation with Gold Legion’s long-awaited re-issue.


Like a fusion of schoolmarms and matchmakers, Roberta Kelly and the Midnite Ladies (Madeline Bell, Sunny Leslie, and Sue Glover) delight listeners with a crash course in Astrology 101 over the buoyant boogie of “Zodiacs”. Thor Baldursson’s stunning arrangement seamlessly segues into “Love Sign”, wherein Kelly proclaims, “I’m looking for a love sign /A sun sign / The one sign that won’t turn bad!” The bass line scurries underneath her voice and fluttering flutes adorn the orchestration. Still dreaming of a love that is astrologically copacetic, the singer finally glimpses a glimmer of hope in the night sky on “Funky Stardust”, which cleverly recasts the horn motif of “Zodiacs” just before the fade out. “If you question my integrity, you better move away from me,” she warns on “I’m a Sagittarius”. The groove dips deeper than the preceding cuts while the Midnite Ladies occasionally shout “Sagittarius!” in case the theme escaped you.


Some moments on Zodiac Lady spark more guilt than pleasure. “Sunburst” bursts a little too much and “Moondreaming” is an anticlimactic album closer that flatlines. Though the sparse packaging could also use an infusion of Vitamin D, the rich tones of Universal’s mastering nourishes the overall effort. Gold Legion deserves gold stars for unearthing a disco curio that could charm even the bulls, lions, and scorpions among us.

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Christian John Wikane is a NYC-based journalist and music essayist. He's a Contributing Editor for PopMatters, where he's interviewed artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Janelle Monae. For the past three years, he's penned liner notes for more than 100 CD re-issues by legends of R&B, rock, pop, dance, and jazz. Since 2008, he's produced and hosted Three of Hearts: A Benefit for The Family Center at Joe's Pub. He is the author of the five-part oral history Casablanca Records: Play It Again (PopMatters, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @CJWikaneNYC. 


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