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Keni Burke: You're the Best

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 9/ 10

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US FTG reissue CD, 2014
The original release on US RCA, 1981
1) Let Somebody Love You
2) Gotta Find My Way Back In Your Heart
3) Love Is The Answer
4) You're The Best
5) Paintings Of Love
6) Night Riders
7) Never Stop Loving Me

Bonus tracks on the US FTG reissue:
8) You're The Best (7" Version)
9) You're The Best (12" Version)
10) Night Riders (7" Version)
11) Night Riders (12" Version)
12) Let Somebody Love You (7" Version)
13) Let Somebody Love You (Instrumental)

During the previous decade, many soul classics were available in CD format only as Japanese import copies, and you had to pay 30-40 US dollars to get yourself a CD copy of the best soul gems of the 70s or early 80s. However, in this decade labels like Expansion, Big Break Records, and Funky Town Grooves (originally a UK label, now printing most of their releases in the U.S.) have made the same albums available in mid-price category. Keni Burke's two 1980s albums You're the Best (1981) and Changes (1982) were also first printed in Japan only, but first Expansion printed them on 2on1 disc and now Funky Town Grooves has reissued both albums with bonus tracks.

None of the solo albums by ex-Five Stairsteps member and bass player Keni Burke were succesful at the time of their release, but they have become much cherished treasures among soul enthusiasts, especially in the U.K., where Keni's Risin' to the Top is a club classic and a real anthem among quality soul circles. Check the full discography of Keni Burke's solo albums on our site.

Risin' to the Top was included in Keni's 1982 album Changes, but the album was preceded by this 1981 album You're the Best. This is less known album but also well worth hunting down, although it didn't contain such a club classic as Risin' to the Top.

The single hit from this album was Let Somebody Love You, which peaked at position 66 on Billboard's soul chart, and the album sank without a trace. Let Somebody Love You is a nice melodic uptempo tune, but probably too seventies' type of horns-and-strings-ladden handclapper to gain any wider recognition in the 80s. Still, it's by far the best dance tune on this album, whereas the more "up-to-date", synthetic dancers You're the Best and Night Riders were clearly inferior, and I don't think the 12" versions of these two tracks make this reissue any more worthwhile than the earlier reissues of the album.

The reason I still give nine points out of ten for this album, is because the album contained two gorgeous ballads that I rate in the Desert Island category of larger than life soul tunes. Keni Burke may not be the world's best soul vocalist - his style is more in the smooth soul category and the Isley Brothers' ballads are probably the best point of comparison - but Keni was (and still is) extremely talented as a songwriter, and Gotta Find My Way Back in Your Heart and Painting of Love are real masterpieces.

Todd Rundgren's (of rock group Utopia) song Love Is the Answer may sound pretty odd choice to cover, but the tune is actually perfect for Keni's delicate, sophisticated interpretation. The same could be said about Never Stop Loving Me, originally recorded by Curtis Mayfield (on his Something to Believe album, 1980) and composed by Keni together with Curtis.

As a whole, the album is much more recommendable for lovers of Isley Brother-Curtis Mayfield type of ballad soul than club goers or funkateers. The ballads on this album really heal your soul!

Ismo Tenkanen

YouTube pick: Keni Burke - Gotta Find My Way Back in Your Arms

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