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Lenny Williams: Choosing You

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 7/ 10

Buy this album from our CD Shop

The original release on US ABC, 1977
1) Shoo Doo Fu Fu Ooh!
2) Look Up With Your Mind
3) Choosing You
4) Riding The High Wire
5) Please Don't Tempt Me
6) I've Been Away For Too Long
7) Trust In Me
8) Problem Solver

Bonus tracks:
9) Choosing You (US Single Edit)
10) Choosing You (US Mono Version)
11) Shoo Doo Fu Fu Ooh! (US Mono Single)
12) Look Up With Your Mind (US Single Edit)

I have just added a full album discography of Lenny Williams on our site, and amazingly enough, it seemed there wasn't any decent discography of Lenny available earlier. Lenny Williams was the lead singer of Tower of Power in the early 70s, and started his solo career in 1974, first releasing his debut on Warner (while still being a member of TOP), then one album on Motown (Rise Sleeping Beauty, just reissued by BBR), and then two albums on ABC. Both of these ABC albums have earlier been available in Japan, and they have been sold out for years, with price bids over 50 USD, so David Nathan's Soulmusic label does a great job printing them now available at mid-price.

In my papers, Lenny Williams recorded his best albums during his MCA period, but these ABC albums are quite worthwhile, too. The record company seemed to focus on uptempo tunes, but Lenny proved to be a very soulful and unique vocalist while interpreting ballads, too. Soulmusic label excels here with a 16-page booklet featuring a fresh interview with Lenny himself, plus all the essential details of musicians, composers and arrangers. The liner notes have been written by Rashod Ollison, a journalist and culture critic from Little Rock, Arkansas.

In his interview, Lenny tells that the second album Rise Sleeping Beauty had also been recorded on Warner, but he was given the master tapes and he signed with Motown. However, both the Warner debut and Motown album flopped, and Lenny said people started to say that "You shouldn't have left" Tower of Power. "I was starting to believe that, too".

But then was connected with Otis Smith at ABC Records and assigned with Frank Wilson, a former Motown producer, who was to produce Lenny's ABC albums, and Choosing You was released in the summer of 1977. The second single that was released from the album was Shoo Du Fu Fu Ooh, a melodic uptempo swinger that became one of Lenny's signature songs in the 1970s. It earned him a sizeable hit as well, peaking at position 31 on Billboard's Soul Charts. The album sold over 400,000 copies, and the next album Spark of Love sold gold, over 500,000 copies!

The first single pick was the title track, which was released one month before the album was out, and this is a more disco-oriented tune, but quite effective and hooky one. Still, the track finally charted only after Shoo Du Fu Fu Ooh had become a hit, and Choosing You peaked at position 62. The third single pick Look Up With Your Mind / Riding The High Wire also reached the charts (position 74), and the Tower of Power horn section plays some gorgeous riffs on these.

All the tracks on the A-side of the vinyl release (tracks 1-4 on the CD) were actually uptempo tunes, but with decent melodies and superb instrumentation, all these were better than average disco soul tracks. The Tower of Power Horn Section was playing the excellent horn riffs, and the other musicians included many of the top musicians of the period, including James Gadson, James Jamerson, Jr, Ray Parker Jr, Nathan Watts, Michael Boddicker etc.

The B-side of the original vinyl set opens with another uptempo tune Please Don't Tempt Me. It builds a worthwhile funk-oriented groove at the latter part of the over 7-minute track, and Lenny improvises excellent ad-libs. This track should please funk devotees as well.

Finally on the track six I've Been Away For Too Long we are offered the first ballad track on the album and it immediately proved that Lenny could deliver a very deep soul style interpretation, too. However, his unique fiercely disjointed falsetto style with melismatic, gospel-influenced tone was far from easy-on-the-ear on radio play, and he never crossed over to pop charts. Actually Lenny's highest ever chart position is soul-20, single pick Midnight Girl from his second ABC album. But Lenny has remained one of the big heroes in the quality soul circles, visiting also Luxury Soul Weekender at Blackpool, UK back in 2006.

Trust in Me was another quality ballad, written by Terri McFaddin & John Footman, who contributed Lenny's albums for the following few years with producer Frank Wilson. The album closes with another long-time signature song of Lenny Williams, Problem Solver, his own ballad tune that he has recorded three times. The original version was included in his debut solo album on Warner, this was the second version and the third version can be found on his 1984 indie set Changing. The version we can hear on this album is a relaxed beautiful midtempo ballad soarer, and it was also released as the B-side of both Choosing You and Shoo Du Fu Fu Ooh single in Europe.

Ismo Tenkanen

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