Phil Perry: My Book of Love


By Mark Anthony Neal

In 1986 with release of his fifth recording, Give Me the Reason, Luther Vandross finally achieved some semblance of the cross-over success that had alluded him in his four previous efforts. After half a decade of producing quality R&B for largely black audiences, Vandross was well received by the mainstream, buoyed perhaps by the title track’s inclusion on the soundtrack of the Bette Midler/Danny Devito film, Ruthless People. It was a trend recognized the year before by Sade’s debut The Diamond Life and confirmed by the successes a year later by Vandross and Anita Baker’s initial Elektra release, Rapture. Without much promotion, these recordings were not only embraced by traditional “Quiet Storm” formats, but also by the “Adult Contemporary” and “lite-Jazz” formats that Kenny G and Michael Bolton would come to dominate.

It was in this type of environment that Phil Perry’s initial solo recording Heart of a Man, with his stunning remake of Aretha Franklin’s classic “Call Me,” was released in 1991. By then it was becoming increasingly difficult for artists like Perry, Miki Howard, Will Downing, Rachelle Ferrell and the late Phyllis Hyman, for example, to get airplay, particularly as black radio and the recording industry became more concerned with 14-year consumers and 30 year-old memories. Thanks to the Private Music label, Perry’s music, like those of his labelmates Peobo Bryson, James Ingram, Jeffrey Osborne (the best voice of his generation) and Barry White, is getting the type of promotional support and airplay that it deserves.

Perry’s new disc, My Book of Love finds him in his element: strong ballads and jazz mid-tempos. Largely produced by Lee Curreri, Gary Brown and Barry Eastmond (Will Downing and Anita Baker, among others), Perry’s rich tenor and distinctive, though sometimes grating, falsetto is solidly featured, as it should be. Standouts includes the jazzy “Closer to Heaven,” the self-penned “E.M.L. (My Fantasy, My Mystery, My Love),” which was written for his wife, and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition “She’s Over Me,” which was recorded by Teddy Pendergrass nearly 20 years ago for his most accomplished album It’s Time for Love. Like Vandross, Perry has often featured strong remakes of R&B classics, like the before mentioned “Call Me” and The Spinners’ “Love Don’t Love Nobody” and Patti Labelle’s “If Only You Knew,” both featured on Pure Pleasure (1994). My Book of Love is highlighted by Perry’s reading of the Thom Bell/Linda Creed classic “You’re As Right As Rain,” which was initially recorded by the legendary Stylistic on their 1972 recording Round 2.

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