Cherry Red’s SoulMusic imprint has recently continued its series of artist anthologies with a pair of double-disc sets from two great ladies of soul-jazz: Jean Carne and Marlena Shaw. Today, we’re taking a look at Jean Carne’s collection!
Jean Carne (also known as Jean Carn, though we’ll continue to use her preferred spelling with an “e”) has recorded for a variety of labels in a 45-plus year career: first, as part of a soul-jazz duo with her then-husband Doug Carn at his Black Jazz Records, and then solo at Philadelphia International, Motown, Mirage/Omni, Atlantic, and more. Don’t Let It Go to Your Head: The Anthology draws on her four Philly International (PIR) platters as well as her lone Motown LP and numerous guest appearances. The result is the first comprehensive anthology from one of soul’s great and most underrated voices. Her high whistle tones may occasionally recall Deniece Williams, but the sound and approach is all Jean’s.
Don’t Let It Go to Your Head opens with the first two tracks from her 1976 self-titled debut on PIR: the upbeat ode to “Free Love” (which attracted controversy despite its lyric imploring, “Don’t go ’round giving your love to just anyone”) and the reflective “No Laughing Matter.” Both were written and produced by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, who initially lavished attention upon their newest signing. (Carne was one of just three solo females signed to PIR. Carolyn Crawford and the then-Mrs. Gamble, Dee Dee Sharp, were the other two.) Gamble and Huff were joined as producers on Jean Carn by Dexter Wansel, arguably the major driving force behind “PIR Mk. II” (the period at the label following the departure of many key talents to Salsoul Records in 1975), and the illustrious team of McFadden, Whitehead and Carstarphen. The latter brought intricate rhythms, deftly navigated by the singer at her gutsiest, to “Time Waits for No One.” Four tracks from Jean Carn are featured here.
No fewer than five producers and/or production teams worked on the 1978 follow-up Happy to Be with You, including Gamble and Huff on the urgently rhythmic “There’s a Shortage of Good Men,” featuring the team’s signature social consciousness, and the smooth, quintessentially lush Philly soul of “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head.” Every track on the LP save one (a cover of the Debby Boone smash “You Light Up My Life”) has been reprised on this collection, with other highlights including the bubbly “(No, No) You Can’t Come Back Now” (produced and co-written by William Bloom) and producer/co-writer Sherman Marshall’s title song, which recalls the groove of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” The Doug and Jean Carn songs “Revelation” and “Infant Eyes” were even revisited as a medley, in a nod to Jean’s jazz fans.
Dexter Wansel oversaw Jean’s third PIR LP, 1979’s When I Find You Love, as executive producer. Emphasizing the album’s disco beats, the anthology has selected the extended 12-inch mixes of “Was That All It Was” (produced and co-written by the Iceman himself, Jerry Butler, and featuring Carn making the most of her expansive vocal range) and the Wansel-penned, breathy yet drivingly funky “What’s On Your Mind” which delivered a modern, electronic feel as well as rich orchestration. (Labelmates The Jones Girls provided the background vocals.) Three more of the LP’s eight tracks appear on Don’t Let It Go to Your Head: the lithe “My Love Don’t Come Easy” from the pen of the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert, the danceable “Lonely Girl in a Cold, Cold World,” and smoky title ballad.
Philadelphia International moved Jean to its TSOP imprint for her fourth and final album, 1981’s Sweet and Wonderful. Primarily recorded in Los Angeles with producers Norman Connors and McKinley Jackson (a Detroit veteran), it featured such top-notch musicians as drummer James Gadson, bassist Nathan East, guitarist David T. Walker, keyboardists Clarence MacDonald and Reginald “Sonny” Burke, and percussionist Paulinho DaCosta. Six of the album’s eight tracks have been culled here, including the effervescent “Bet Your Lucky Star,” upbeat Glenn Jones duet “Sweet and Wonderful,” and a pair of covers from Philadelphia (“Love Don’t Love Nobody”) and Detroit (“Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things).”
With her PIR contract ended, Detroit would be Jean’s next stop. How ironic, then, that for her Motown debut Trust Me, she opted to cover Gamble and Huff’s classic “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” in expressive style – and The Temptations even joined her on backgrounds! Co-produced by Carne and Norman Connors, it’s included here along with its B-side. The intricate “Completeness” was introduced by Minnie Riperton and allowed Jean to show off her vocal prowess.
Don’t Let It Go to Your Head is rounded out with nine tracks on which Jean guested for other artists. On many of these tracks, she returned to her soul-jazz fusion roots. Among the talents who were graced with Jean’s vocals on their own projects were her gifted collaborators Dexter Wansel and Norman Connors; saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.; and acid-jazz/neo-soul pioneer Roy Ayers. A couple of true classics are featured: a suitably sultry rendition of Bacharach and David’s “The Look of Love” and a haunting, moody take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi,” with Washington and Connors, respectively.
Compilation producer David Nathan has contributed the liner notes in the 24-page illustrated booklet, and Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks. Don’t Let It Go to Your Head is a fine testament to the artist and her contributions at the crossroads of soul, jazz, and pop. There’s no shortage of great music here.
- Free Love
- No Laughing Matter
- If You Wanna Go Back
- Time Waits for No One
- There’s a Shortage of Good Men
- (No, No) You Can’t Come Back Now
- Happy to Be with You
- I Bet She Won’t Love You Like I Do
- Don’t Let It Go to Your Head
- Was That All It Was (12-Inch Single Version)
- What’s On Your Mind (12-Inch Single Version)
- My Love Don’t Come Easy
- Lonely Girl in a Cold, Cold World
- Bet Your Lucky Star
- Sweet and Wonderful (duet with Glenn Jones)
- We Got Some Catchin’ Up to Do
- I’m Back for More – Al Johnson with Jean Carn
- When I Find You Love
- Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)
- Love Don’t Love Nobody
- If You Don’t Know Me by Now
- Dreams of Tomorrow – Dexter Wansel featuring Jean Carn
- Mystic Stranger
- Revelation/Infant Eyes
- Together Once Again
- Love Is Beautiful (When Its Right) – Universe Featuring Dexter Wansel featuring Jean Carne
- Love’s in Your Corner – Norman Connors featuring Derrick Hughes and Jean Carn
- You Might Be Surprised – Roy Ayers featuring Jean Carn
- Keep in Touch – Grover Washington, Jr. featuring Jean Carne
- The Look of Love – Grover Washington, Jr. featuring Jean Carne
- Dindi – Norman Connors featuring Jean Carn
- Valentine Love – Norman Connors featuring Jean Carn and Michael Henderson
CD 1, Tracks 1-4 from Jean Carn, Philadelphia International PZ 34394, 1976
CD 1, Tracks 5-9 and CD 2, Tracks 8-9 from Happy to Be with You, Philadelphia International JZ 34986. 1978
CD 1, Tracks 10-11 from Philadelphia International 12-inch single 4Z8-3103, 1979
CD 1, Tracks 12-13 and CD 2, Track 1 from When I Find You Love, Philadelphia International JZ 36196, 1979
CD 1, Tracks 14-16 and CD 2, Tracks 2, 3 & 7 from Sweet and Wonderful, Philadelphia International FZ 36775, 1981
CD 1, Track 17 from Back for More, Columbia JC 36266, 1980
CD 2, Tracks 4-5 from Trust Me, Motown ML 6010, 1982
CD 2, Track 6 from What the World Is Coming To, Philadelphia International PZ 34487, 1977
CD 2, Track 10 from Universe Featuring Dexter Wansel, Philadelphia International CD 72445-11008-2, 1991
CD 2, Track 11 from Mr. C, Arista AL 9575, 1981
CD 2, Track 12 from You Might Be Surprised, Columbia FC 40022, 1985
CD 2, Tracks 13-14 from Strawberry Moon, Columbia FC 40510, 1987
CD 2, Tracks 15-16 from Saturday Night Special, Buddah BDS 5643, 1975