PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Thelma Houston: A Womans Touch

Thelma Houston out-sings the majority of singers who were born during her 17-year respite from recording but A Woman's Touch doesn't completely "satisfy the need" of Houston's return.


Thelma Houston

A Woman's Touch

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2007-08-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Thirty years ago, Thelma Houston shouted, "satisfy the need in me" on a rousing cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "Don't Leave Me This Way" and gave the world one of the most enduring anthems of the 1970s. On her first album in 17 years, Thelma Houston reaches back to another classic by the same group who furnished her Grammy-winning, chart-topping pop, disco, and R&B hit in 1977. "Wake Up Everybody", originally recorded by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in 1975, opens A Woman’s Touch, Houston's debut for Shout! Factory. The news is this: not one of those 30 years has aged Thelma Houston's church-schooled voice in the slightest as she tackles songs by some of her favorite male artists.

Yes, another "covers" album has landed and saddles another veteran artist with the inevitable comparisons to the original source material. I'm cutting Thelma Houston a little slack, though, because her voice is truly a heaven sent force that's been missing from the "new release" section of record stores (record stores?) for far too long, unless, of course, you count the umpteenth disco compilation to feature "Don't Leave Me This Way".

"Wake Up Everybody" is an ideal album opener, however. It begins with a chant by Babalunuenue, snakey/shakey percussion, and a droning didgeridoo just before Houston's spoken word passage commands your complete attention. "I wonder did you read the newspapers this morning or did you see the evening news as you were having dinner with your families last night?", she asks in a knowing voice about the world's current state of tumult. Its message is timely and Houston's background singers (Portia Griffin, Pat Hodges, and Denita James) provide puissant corroboration to the lyrics' assertion that the "world won't get much better if we just let it be". It's a creative start to an album that has its moments, to be sure, but suffers from questionable production choices.

Only two tracks maintain Houston's stature as a living, breathing disco queen, which is a wise move since her talent extends far beyond the land of spinning mirror balls. Her exuberant take on Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" is the far better of the two. She sings the breathless melody over a revved-up arrangement, replete with a break of Latin percussion and a sax solo. Both Mary J. Blige and Deniece Williams have re-worked this tune in recent years but Houston's version contains such contagious joy that I can't help but think that Vandross would appreciate the fabulous-ness accorded his first big solo hit. A melding of Sylvester's "Dance (Disco Heat)" and "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", ironically, doesn't deliver nearly as well. The tune begins with an interesting, gospel-inflected reading of "You Make Me Feel" but soon gives way to a cheap dance track that seems to disregards the quality of Houston's voice. (Sylvester is probably rolling over in his dressing gown!)

Rather unfortunately, this kind of production mars Houston's never less-than-stellar efforts. It must be a matter of budget that producer Peitor Angell backs Houston with synthetic tracks. (Note: the Sylvester medley has the dubious distinction of being produced by Luigie Gonzalez and Eddie X.) A few actual instruments surface from time to time -- flute, trumpet, sax, bass, harp -- but "Keyboards and Programming" is a far too prevalent a credit in the absence of a proper rhythm section. The "horns" on Houston's renditions of Sting's "Brand New Day" and Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar" drain both songs of any musical authenticity Houston contributes. The few moments that don't contain punched-in brass make the latter tune slightly more bearable. Jimmy Webb, who produced Houston's debut album Sunshower (1969) for Dunhill, would be thrilled with "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"... at least with Houston's reading of the lyrics. I'm sure if Webb stepped in as producer (there's an idea), he would have made room for some real orchestration.

What does this indicate? It is not Thelma Houston's voice that is the issue, it's her surroundings. Too many "comebacks" of late, especially by R&B veterans, are made on the cheap. Audience's expectations, consequently, have been drastically lowered and the "value" of these artists is tarnished by cheesy arrangements. Artists as talented as Houston should be accorded some dignity à la Joe Henry's work with Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, and Allen Toussaint.

In addition to "Wake Up Everybody" and "Never Too Much", a few tracks on A Woman's Touch do rise above their mediocre musical foundation. Houston adds the definitive "woman's touch" to former label mate Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover". Angell can be commended here for keeping the focus on Houston's nuanced, sensual interpretation. Likewise, a sparse, bluesy reading of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love" salvages the overall listenability of the album. If only this methodology was implemented more frequently elsewhere, A Woman's Touch would be a complete victory for Houston.

Make no mistake, Thelma Houston can out-sing the majority of singers who were born during her 17-year respite -- A Woman's Touch provides irrefutable proof –- and are 100 times more visible in the mainstream. Hopefully any album she records henceforth will more completely "satisfy the need" for listeners who've awaited her long overdue return.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.