will forever be one of the great all-time R&B divas. Processing an infectious, angelic and soulful honey -coated voice with an awe-inspiring range, Deniece Williams set the bar high for R&B singers back in the 70s and to this day her influence can be heard on everyone from Mariah Carey
. Her songs have been sampled by dozens of artists including Will Smith
and Master P.
Deniece's pure, rich and spine-tingling vocal quality, along with her impeccable diction and ability to honestly connect with any song has resulted in a vast catalog of hits. Some of her timeless anthems include "Silly," "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" (her No. 1 pop and R&B duet with Johnny Mathis
), "Let's Hear It For The Boy" (the million-selling pop/soul chart-topper from the movie Footloose
), "It's Gonna Take A Miracle," "Free" (from her gold-certified This Is Niecy
album) and "Black Butterfly." In recent years the chanteuse has primarily been recording gospel records but on April 24 Shanachie Entertainment will release Deniece Williams' highly anticipated return to R&B Love, Niecy Style
produced by renowned Philly soul producer Bobby Eli. Deniece's label debut will mark her first major return to R&B in over a decade. For this momentous occasion Deniece called upon some of the artists who have been instrumental throughout her career: Stevie Wonder
, George Duke
and Philip Bailey
In 1978, Deniece Williams' sophomore album Songbird
was released, coming two years after the classic "Free" (from her gold-certified This Is Niecy
album) propelled her into international fame and success. The title was a perfect description of the soulful vocal beauty associated with this legendary singer/songwriter and it is as appropriate now as it was back then. Indeed, a songbird with a dynamic range, a distinctive sound and a true gift for lyrical interpretation, Deniece has long enjoyed a place in the hearts of music buyers who embraced her through a rich legacy of close to thirty charted singles and a dozen best-selling albums. Her career also includes four Grammy wins and an extensive list of credits including sixteen Grammy nominations, three Stellar Awards, an American Music Award and an Oscar nomination.
As Deniece reflects "I wasn't really thinking about making a new record until a mutual friend put me in touch with Bobby, who I knew from the recording sessions I did with Thom Bell in the early '80s which included songs like "Silly" and "It's Gonna Take A Miracle." Bobby talked to me about the idea of doing a project of songs that I've always loved. I thought it was a great way to honor artists like Luther Vandross
, Donny Hathaway
and Gwen Guthrie and what their music has meant to me. When people listen to this project, I hope it will take them back down memory lane as well as create new memories for those who may not be familiar with all the songs on the album."
Within weeks of agreeing to Love, Niecey Style
, Bobby Eli (whose extensive production credits include such favorites as Sister Sledge
, Atlantic Starr
, Major Harris, Blue Magic and Engelbert Humperdink and whose discography includes countless Philly soul sessions as a star guitarist with Billy Paul, The Spinners
, Wilson Pickett
, The Salsoul Orchestra, The O'Jays
, MFSB, The Temptations
and Elton John
) and Deniece had begun selecting songs for it. "There were so many songs I had been carrying around forever, humming them, singing them and never thinking I would be recording them!" she declares. "By the time we finished, I felt we had done what we set out to do." For Eli, working with Deniece was "a pure pleasure. She's a producer's dream, a very special artist and someone I always wanted to work with from being on the Thom Bell sessions with her."
Love, Niecey Style is particularly special, given the presence of three distinguished music men who have played an integral role in Deniece's career at different times: icon Stevie Wonder (with whom Deniece got her first gig as a member of his touring backup vocal group Wonderlove in 1972); super producer, songwriter and artist in his own right, George Duke (who produced 1984's Grammy-winning "Let's Hear It For The Boy"); and renowned vocalist Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind & Fire
, with whom Deniece was associated by virtue of working with EW&F's Maurice White and Kalimba Productions from 1976 to 1982.
In addition, what distinguishes Niecy's new CD from other albums of R&B 'cover' tunes is the range of her choices, starting with the 1963 Baby Washington chestnut "That's How Heartaches Are Made" through to Donny Hathaway's eternal "Someday We'll All Be Free" and on to Luther Vandross' first solo 1981 smash, "Never Too Much." For good measure, Deniece re-recorded her own "Cause You Love Me Baby," a staple in her repertoire since the track was included in her 1976 Columbia debut album as well as cutting a brand new song, "The Only Thing I'm Missing Is You," a prime romantic mood-setting, sensuous cut which showcases the songbird sounding better than ever!
The basic tracks on Love, Niecey Style were cut by producer Eli in Philadelphia; an all-star cast of West Coast musicians including saxman Everette Harp, bass player extraordinaire Freddie Washington and Tower Of Power
trumpeter Greg Adams then added their musical skills to the album. Says Deniece, "It was an extraordinary experience to make music with such gifted musicians…words could never truly express how special it made me feel being in the studio again with Stevie, George, Philip, Greg, Freddie and Everette. Truly, I was surrounded by friends and loved ones."
The spirit of love and celebration is displayed throughout Love, Niecey Style
. Speaking about her choices for the album, Deniece explains, "I'd been wanting to record "That's How Heartaches Are Made" for years. I was thirteen when I first heard Baby Washington sing this song. It touched my heart because at the time, I was in love with this boy but he didn't love me the same way! When we started recording the song, I could hear Stevie (Wonder) playing harmonica on it. 'Can you come down?' I asked and he was gracious enough to play on the track. It turned out beautifully. Then, "Love's Holiday" has always been one of my favorite EW&F songs.
It was also written by Skip Scarborough, who I feel was one of the best songwriters of our generation. Then having my dearest friend Philip Bailey sing on it…it doesn't get any better than that!"
The standout ballad "This Time I'll Be Sweeter" (previously cut by both Angela Bofill and Roberta Flack
, one of the many artists whose recordings - including Minnie Riperton and Esther Phillips - benefited from Deniece's work as a session singer in the '70s) is a tribute to a longtime friend: "The song was written by the late Gwen Guthrie who we lost to breast cancer. Gwen used to sing with me, Lani Groves and Patti Austin - we were in the same circle of background singers when I lived in New York and I remember when she wrote the song. I always wanted to do it and it's my way of honoring Gwen."
Deniece says the two most challenging tunes were her reading of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free" (which features Greg Adams) and one of the only covers ever done of Luther's "Never Too Much." The vocalist shares, "I told Bobby (Eli) and Executive Producer Danny Weiss that I wanted to do Donny's song. After I listened to his rendition again, I just broke down and cried. I thought, 'do I have the audacity to do this song?' I called the record company and told them I'd made a mistake. They said, 'are you crazy? No…you gotta do the song!' It has a beautiful message of encouragement so I'm glad I did it. As for the Luther song, well, he was a friend and certainly one of the best vocalists of our time. I had no idea how hard a song "Never Too Much" was to sing – you can hardly sing and breathe on it. I tell people, when I get to heaven, I'm going to tell Luther how hard it was to do!"
Keeping with contemporary classics of the '80s, Deniece chose Kool & The Gang
's "Cherish" about which she says, "real love only happens on a few occasions and when we have it, we shouldn't take it for granted"; and George Benson
's 1983 hit, "Love Me (One More Time)" which she declares is her favorite Benson song, given "something really special by George (Duke) who played on the track." Rounding out this stellar collection are her own "Cause You Love Me Baby" and "If You Really Love Me," another nod to Stevie Wonder. "I sang this song so much as background for Stevie that at one time, I was singing it in my sleep! I was very apprehensive about doing this song because he was and still is my mentor and I wanted to please him. I think I've made him proud." The choice for Deniece Williams to revisit one of her own classic tunes "Cause You Love Me Baby" was easy: "I've been very blessed as a songwriter and publisher to have so much of my music sampled. I was going to re-do "Free" but then I thought it would be good to do something up-tempo because it's been sampled by so many other artists…and being the romantic I am, it seemed perfect for this project."
Since the mid-'80s, Deniece has been busier than ever, recording a children's CD, Lullabies To Dreamland
, appearing in the London cast of the pioneering musical "Mama I Want To Sing," producing and hosting her own radio program, "The Deniece Williams Show" for BBC Radio for almost ten years. Purposely devoting much of her time to raising her four sons, Deniece says she made a conscious choice to limit her touring activities: "I've been doing maybe ten concerts a year and in recent years, I've really got into writing theater pieces and developing film scripts with my older sons. I felt it was time to test myself in other creative ways. Now with my children grown, it's time for mom to be out there again! I chose to stay at home and did only 10% of what I could have done. Vocally, I think I'm stronger than I've ever been and it's time to get out there and do it. I've been blessed with a fantastic audience and I'm always humbled by that. My audience reminds me that this is what I'm supposed to be doing!"Deniece Williams' MySpace Page
Audio Links:This Time I'll Be Sweeter Love's Holiday
(Streaming audio and/or video links may expire without notice)