Randy Crawford was barely 20 years old when she began touring as George Benson’s opening act in 1972. Shortly thereafter the late Julian “Cannonball” Adderley would tap the young songstress to contribute to his “musical” Big Man. By 1976, Crawford had recorded her first full-length project Everything Must Change. Crawford’s debut, which featured a live version of Bernard Ighner’s now classic composition “Everything Must Change”, captured her soulful restraint—always simmering but never quite boiling over into that gospel frenzy.
Crawford’s gravy-smoothed timbre personified the introspective anti-fusion pop-jazz of the mid-1970s that could be found in the music of Paul Simon, James Taylor and David Sanborn. Crawford’s “sound” would be perfected on her 1979 recording Raw Silk, which featured definitive renditions of Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused” and Marvin Gaye’s “Just to Keep You Satisfied”. It was a cameo appearance though, on The Crusaders’ classic track “Street Life” that thrust Crawford into pop-jazz stardom.
Crawford recorded often during the 1980s, never quite reaching the commercial promise that “Street Life” suggested and never quite capturing the creative balance of Raw Silk. Crawford was perhaps an afterthought, when her recording Naked and True was released on the Bluemoon label in 1995. Crawford brilliantly weaved through contemporary standards giving thoughtful and inventive readings of John Cale’s “Cajun Moon”, Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years”, and Prince’s “Purple Rain”. After a minor misstep with the disjointed Every Kind of Mood, Crawford returns with Permanent.
Like her previous effort, Crawford is challenged by wide ranging assortment of material, and often the quirky production style of Pete Smith. Smith’s new-aged strings work on tracks like the probing “When I Get Over You” and “Wild Is the Wind”, the 1957 Tiomkin and Washington composition that was a signature recording for Nina Simone. Smith’s production style is less convincing on Crawford’s rendition of the Bacharach and David standard “Alfie”.
Crawford is more effective when she is surrounded by less ambitious production. Thus Crawford soars on the Bruce Hornsby-esque “When Will I Be Free of Love’s Taboo”. Written by Crawford, the song recalls Hornsby’s sweet duet with Chaka Chan on “Love Me Still”. Crawford is also sparkling on the percolating title track, which features striking backing vocals by Carol Kenyon.
On much of Permanent, Crawford and Smith attempt to revisit some of the more surprising choices from Naked and True. Perhaps inspired by the late Esther Phillips, who resuscitated her career in the mid-1970s with a disco-ized version of Dinah Washington’s classic “What a Difference a Day Makes”, Naked and True featured Crawford renditions of dance tracks like Joyce Sims’ “Come into My Life”, Change’s “The Glow of Love” and the aforementioned “What a Difference a Day Makes”. Thus Crawford ups the tempo on tracks like “When the Evening Comes”, which shares some resemblance with Marvin Gaye’s “Praise” (In Our Lifetime, 1981) and Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do”, though in the latter case she falls short of the wonderful version of the song recently recorded by saxophonist Kirk Whalum with Wendy Moten on vocals (For You, 1998).
Permanent finds Randy Crawford where Randy Crawford has always been. More “smoooove” than jazz—more gravy than grits, and for fans of Randy Crawford, that’s not such a bad thing.