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Kleeer: Winners

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 7/ 10

Buy this album from our CD Shop

UK BBR reissue CD, 2013
The original release on US Atlantic, 1980
1) Winners
2) I Still Love You
3) Your Way
4) Close To You
5) Rollin' On
6) Nothin' Said
7) Hunger For Your Love
8) Open Your Mind

Bonus tracks on the UK BBR reissue:
9) Winners (12 " Disco Version)
10) Open Your Mind (Single Version)
11) Winners (Single Version)

Kleeer was a disco-funk group from New York, featuring Woody Cunningham, Norman Durham, Paul Crutchfield, Richard Lee and Isabelle Coles. At the time of the original release of this album, in the early 1980, I was already an eager soul & funk enthusiast, but I never bought copies of Kleeer albums. Maybe it was simply the fact that for instance this Kleeer album from 1980, Winners, was never released in Europe, and you should have ordered an expensive US import copy of the vinyl album to get one to yourself.

Why the record company executives decided that Kleeer had no market outside USA, is a mystery to me. The music Kleeer performed was dance-oriented funk, which was as easily accessible to music lovers universally as the disco hits by any other soul-funk group of the same period. But maybe the record company was waiting for the group's major breakthrough in the States first, and that never really happened. Kleeer scored twelve hits in the US soul charts between 1979 and 1985, but none of them were top 10 hits, and only two singles reached top 30. The title track Winners is one of these two, and the other one was Get Tough from the following year, 1981.

Winners still follows in the late 1970s disco-funk style with its dominant string section over the percussive beat, although the single was published in the spring 1980, and the hottest disco boom was beginning to fade. The guitarist of the group, Richard "Ric" Lee is interviewed in the liner notes of the BBR reissue, and he explains that the group was "fighting the whole disco craze". "We had a lot of other material that was much funkier, but it's hard to play funk at a 130 beats per minute". Indeed, the disco was kind of opposite to funk, but adding disco elements (faster and more even beat etc.) to funk music, a lot of funk groups were getting rich and gaining much larger audience. "We tried to make it somewhat danceable but still keep funk element in there", Ric explained.

The album continues with a light-weight reggae-tinged dancer titled I Still Love You, sung by Isabelle Coles. Your Way has an almost Chic-type of simple chanted melody over a mid-tempo dance beat. Admittedly, the "funk element" was mainly hidden so far, but the vinyl album's A-side closes with Close To You, which is a bass-driven funk jam not much unlike Fatback Band's 70s dance tracks.

Rollin' on tries to add rocky guitar over an insistent guitar-led groove, while Nothin' Said is a bouncy party funk with strong bass line - this is probably exactly what most of the record buyers were waitin' for from this album. Hunger For Your Love is the only ballad track on the album, and it is highlighted by a sax solo, but the melody is pretty average.

The closing track of the album Open Your Mind is a socially conscious soul-funk tune that was also picked as the second single from the album, but it peaked at position 86 and flopped. The overall atmosphere was influenced by Marvin Gaye's What's Going on, and there's a solid sax solo over the nice percussive groove, but I can easily understand that this had no commercial success.

FTG has just released Kleeer's Atlantic debut I Love to Dance from 1979, and the group released in total eight albums on the label in 1979 - 1985.

Ismo Tenkanen

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