[5 November 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Gloria Jones has not left my laptop or my stereo for well over 72 hours. I find myself listening to 1973’s Share My Love on repeat, usually three times sequentially per session. I absorb each 38-minute installment of music like a plant nourished by water in the desert. For decades, the album has traded hands among soul music aficionados. Now, with generous remastering by Reel Music, the luster of Share My Love is ever-glistening. A rare gem from the Motown catalog finally gets its due.
As 1972 yielded to 1973, the “Sound of Young America” was undergoing a metamorphosis into something edgier and more sophisticated. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye exercised more creative control over their albums, leading to full-length masterpieces that were light years removed from the cross-over radio hits that built the company in the 1960s, while Diana Ross scored a number one album with the soundtrack to her acting debut Lady Sings the Blues (1972). Even the Jackson Five would soon venture past the limits of the three-minute single on their albums with sprawling tracks like “I Am Love”, something the Temptations accomplished when the socially charged, six-minute opus “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” topped the charts.
Gloria Jones was the ideal artist to further expand the boundaries of Motown’s identity. Classically trained, and with a husky yet accessible singing voice, Jones already collected her share of R&B hits on Capitol’s Uptown subsidiary in the mid-‘60s before landing at Motown in 1968. (It was her voice that fronted the original, 1964 version of “Tainted Love”, which Marc Almond and Soft Cell memorably brought near the summit of the pop charts two decades later.) Through Brenda Holloway’s introduction, Berry Gordy hired Jones as a staff writer with the label’s Jobete Publishing company, where she composed more than 100 tracks for the Jackson Five, the Supremes (sans Diana Ross), the Four Tops, Thelma Houston, Jermaine Jackson, Eddie Kendricks, Junior Walker, and Gladys Knight and the Pips who landed a hit with “If I Were Your Woman” written by Jones and her frequent collaborator Pam Sawyer.
In between writing stints, Gloria Jones lent background vocals to Joe Cocker, Ry Cooder, Stephen Stills, and T. Rex, which further emphasized her versatility. Having the admiration of icons from both the rock and soul music worlds, Jones was encouraged by her manager, Tom Thacker, to record a solo project for Motown. Berry Gordy granted Jones the license to use musicians outside the company’s stable of studio greats. The only exception Jones made for the project was calling on the label’s famed arranger Paul Riser, whose unparalleled talent became integral to the artistic success of Share My Love.
From the very beginning, Share My Love announces itself as something afield from a conventional pop album. The opening title track contains a 20-second string and harp prelude, impeccably arranged by Riser. The majestic introduction yields a two-minute instrumental detour, folding in the funk quotient with an unrelenting rhythm section that teases and taunts before suddenly suspending. Enter the voice of Gloria Jones, whose raspy tone brings the stew of musical delights to a boil. “I’ve got so much love to give with no one to give it to”, she sings. The gravel in her growl on “love” rolls through the vowels like a windstorm. Here, “share my love” is not an invitation, it’s an invocation.
“Try Love” is the sweet, somewhat melancholy, yet hopeful flip-side to the title track. Wrapped in Riser’s sumptuous string arrangements, Jones gives the lovelorn and crestfallen some semblance of possibility that love is still within their reach. The third verse is particularly rousing when her voice opens up to heart-stopping heights and Riser’s orchestration accents the lyrics to perfection.
The one track Jones did not compose for the album, “Oh Baby” is a fine showcase for her interpretation of another writer’s material. She’s as committed to the performance as the other eights tracks on the original album. Featuring a dramatic, Spanish-inflected mandolin motif played by Neil Levang, the incessant drumming of John Rainer, and Labelle-styled “whoa-oh—oh” background vocals, “Oh Baby” is a series of climaxes that do not cease even as the song fades.
These three songs are merely points on a compass that span in six other different directions. Share My Love is essential listening for those who crave a hefty slice of soul that becomes more satisfying with each listen. In the introductory liner notes to this re-release, Rolan Bolan (the son Jones had with the late T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan) characterizes his mother’s sole Motown album as “Fresh, soulful, and honest”. It is a well-justified critique. Gloria Jones shares more than just her love, she shares her heart, soul, and timeless musical gifts.