I used to think I was the only one.
Well, perhaps not the only one … but definitely one of a chosen few … a chosen few soul music heads who steadfastly believe that the vast majority of the R&B and soul songs released between the years of 1979 and 1983 represent some of the best music recorded. Ever.
I’m talking about tunes like “You Know How to Love Me” by Phyllis Hyman, “Nights” by Billy Ocean, “When Love Calls” by Atlantic Starr, “Nights Over Egypt” by the Jones Girls and many, many more. For folks like me, these tracks, which are both chronologically and stylistically sandwiched between the end of disco and the birth of house music, resonate so strongly because they blend thumping beats with copious amounts of melody and a heavy peppering of bass; the result is a bevy of cuts that are simultaneously danceable, funky and damn pretty.
So, yeah, I was always under the impression that my “tribe” was a lonely one … until recently, that is. Things changed this past March when I clicked play on “Vinyl Daze,” the new album by vocalist Rhonda Thomas, and discovered that the tribe had grown by one.
For the uninitiated, Thomas is an Atlanta-based, New York-born singer who’s made a career singing mostly on the jazzy side of the music world, but she’s never been locked into one genre. Casein point: She served as a member of the soul bossa band Jiva, sang background for music legend Isaac Hayes for 11 years and has four sonically diverse solo albums under her belt. “Vinyl Daze,” however, embodies the best elements of early 1980s music — and her approach was anything but an accident.
“When it came to making ‘Vinyl Daze’ … I envisioned something that sounded like Quincy Jones and George Duke [produced tracks] for Patrice Rushen, Phyllis Hyman and Michael Jackson,” she says. “We just had a blast making new millennium music influenced by 1981.”
The result of her vision and effort is a 10-track LP (on sale now through a partnership with the recently launched Atlanta Records label) filled with brand-new material like the grooving mid-tempo single “Show Me How to Love You” and the Brazilian-infused “Honey to a Bee,” among others. Adding to the retro factor, “Vinyl Daze even harkens back to a time when all records were “wax” by featuring songs sequestered on an “A side” (with more boogie influenced tunes) and a “B side” (with material that invokes a Natalie Cole/“La Costa” feel).
Thomas says her love for the sounds of that bygone (and incredibly dope) era came as a result of family ties.
“My father used to manage an R&B band in New York, so I would hear them performing lots of cover tunes — [songs by] Earth Wind and Fire, the Commodores, etc. I would hear that constantly. I mean, they would come in at 3 a.m. with all their instruments and I would hear them rehearsing. So, it was just ingrained in me,” she explains.
To accurately capture that specific retro — yet modern — feel, she enlisted the aid of ATL producers/musicians Daz-I-Kue, Khari Simmons and Julius Speed (aka the Edgewood Agents); in recent years, this trio has been responsible for guiding the musical destinies of local artists like Heston, Malena Perez, Donnie and many more.
“Khari, Daz and Julius — not only are they well-versed in music of the past, they’re also well-versed in the music of today. I think if you’re only living that thing and you’re only listening to [an old-school] style of music, then it’s hard for you to bring it to the new millennium,” says Thomas. “Working with [the Edgewood Agents] enabled us to make the music feel familiar without complete duplication.”
With “Vinyl Daze” done and in stores, Thomas is focusingher energies on taking her latest tunes on tour (details on her upcoming Atlanta show below); on top that, she’s already looking ahead to future releases.
“My next album is gonna be a house album. And then after that I’m doing another straight-ahead [jazz] album, but it’s gonna be a live straight-ahead album,” she says.
But for now, let’s revel in the ’80s goodness. M
Catch Rhonda Thomas June 5 at the official “Vinyl Daze” CD Release Concert (8 p.m. at the Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road). For more info, visit http://www.rhondasings.com.