“Come on everybody, let’s jam with The People’s Choice!” goes the lyric to the funky title song which opens 1978’s Turn Me Loose, the third album from Frankie Brunson’s Philly outfit. People’s Choice was a bit different from the other groups populating the roster at Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, being a self-contained band rather than a vocal group. (Instant Funk was another such band, though that unit found greater success after migrating to Salsoul Records.) Big Break Records has given People’s Choice its due with an expanded reissue of Turn Me Loose. Though People’s Choice had a rawer sound than many of the PIR artists, the label/band match was a comfortable one as evidenced by this R&B mélange of funk, soul, disco, and orchestral splendor.
Leon Huff had taken a particular interest in People’s Choice since Boogie Down U.S.A., the band’s 1975 debut on PIR’s TSOP imprint. He wrote “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” the breakthrough song that reached No. 1 Disco and R&B and placed just outside of the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, at No. 11. For Turn Me Loose on the PIR parent label, Huff abdicated his production and co-writer roles on Boogie Down and its follow-up We Got the Rhythm to guitarist Roland Chambers, an MFSB mainstay. Frankie Brunson, David Thompson and Darnell Jordan returned on keyboards, drums and guitars, respectively, and were joined by new members Valerie Brown on vocals and Stanley Thomas on bass. Other than one track, the entire LP was written or co-written by various band members including Brunson, Thompson and Jordan.
Thomas’ slinky bass anchors “Turn Me Loose,” while Dexter Wansel adds some tasty synthesizer licks on this high-octane call to the dancefloor. It sets the tone for a pulsating eight-song romp. The best of the marriage between People’s Choice and PIR is perhaps best illustrated by the disco-flavored “Got That Feelin’,” featuring a lustrous orchestral arrangement for strings and horns by Jack Faith that’s quintessential Philly soul. (The strings and horns, of course, were under the direction of PIR and Salsoul veteran Don Renaldo.) The jazz flourishes on “Got That Feelin'” find full blossom on the very next track, “Changin’ My Life.” While the rhythmic, uptempo track, arranged in lean fashion by Chambers, lacks outside enhancement other than horns, it showcases the tightly-connected band and Brunson’s lead vocals, as well as the impeccable if all-too-brief interplay between saxophone and piano.
The passionate dancer “Rough Ride,” arranged by John L. Usry, Jr., tempers its grit with slashing strings, and leaves plenty of room for the band’s instrumentation to breathe. A somewhat softer but still dance-based approach characterizes “A Greater Truth,” on which Brunson and Brown share vocals. The soulful funk of Ted Wortham and Yvonne Gray’s “Your Love Stays on My Mind” (the only song on the album not written by any members of the band) has Brown at her most forceful with able support from Brunson and company.
Ballads are in short supply on Turn Me Loose. The pleading “Stay with Me” has persuasive group vocals as well as Chambers’ arrangement featuring tinkling piano and lush strings. Don Renaldo channels Stephane Grappelli for an evocative and unusual violin solo on the smooth “Soft and Tender,” on which Wansel’s synthesizer positively shimmers. Brunson is at his most affecting on the midtempo melody sure to leave any listener happily swaying.
In true Big Break tradition, Turn Me Loose has been expanded with bonus cuts – in this case, the single versions of album A-sides “Turn Me Loose” and “Rough Ride,” plus the 12-inch disco mix of “Turn Me Loose.” BBR’s Malcolm McKenzie has penned the detailed and informative liner notes, and Nick Robbins has remastered in customarily fine fashion. This expanded edition, attractively housed in a Super Jewel Box, is another fine addition to BBR’s Philadelphia International library, and a worthy look at another side of Gamble and Huff’s famous soul label. Turn it loose!
- Turn Me Loose
- Got That Feelin’
- Changin’ My Life
- Stay with Me
- Rough Ride
- A Greater Truth
- Your Love Stays on My Mind
- Soft and Tender
- Turn Me Loose (Single Version) (PIR single ZS8 3649, 1978)
- Rough Ride (Single Version) (PIR single ZS8-3658, 2016)
- Turn Me Loose (12-Inch Single Version) (PIR 12-Inch Single ASD 471, 2016)