The opening track of Average White Band’s new/old release On the Strip: The Sunset Sessions couldn’t have a more apropos title: “Let’s Go Round Again.” Following a successful run of albums with producer-arranger Arif Mardin, the funky big band outfit was re-establishing itself. 1979’s Feel No Fret was a self-produced affair on which the band was joined by co-producer Gene Paul; it yielded hit singles in “Atlantic Avenue” and a revival of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk on By.” For a follow-up, AWB turned to the up-and-coming David Foster. A composer, arranger, producer, and keyboardist, Foster had already played in the band Airplay as well as with George Harrison and Earth Wind and Fire. For the latter group – like AWB, a big, soulful, and versatile unit – Foster had co-written the ballad “After the Love Is Gone” which would net him a Grammy Award in 1980. Foster and AWB began work on an album, cutting only four songs (“Love Gives, Love Takes Away” “Growing Pains,” “Kiss Me,” and “Love Won’t Get in the Way”) before management cut it short. The band was moving from Atlantic to Arista, and Atlantic wanted the four tracks they cut. AWB regrouped with Foster under Arista’s aegis, resulting in the 1980 LP Shine. But AWB never had the opportunity to include the original quartet of songs on Shine as originally intended…until now.
On the Strip: The Sunset Sessions compiles AWB’s first four recordings with Foster, seven of the ten songs on Shine, and two outtakes to create a newly-sequenced album drawn from their 1979-1980 sessions with the producer. As part of its ongoing AWB series, Demon has beautifully presented its 13 tracks – alternately soulful, danceable, catchy, and jazz-flecked, and all with Foster’s impeccably polished sonics – on four sides of 180-gram, crystal clear vinyl in a gatefold jacket.
Hamish Stuart (guitar/vocals), Onnie McIntyre (guitar), Roger Ball (keyboards/alto sax), Malcolm Duncan (tenor sax), Steve Ferrone (drums/percussion), and Alan Gorrie (vocals/bass) were a powerful self-contained unit, but Foster brought in some of his trusted hands to make an even more supple sound on these sessions. He contributed keyboards, Jay Graydon came in on guitar, and Neil Stubenhaus added bass. Lenny Castro, Paul Lani, and Paulinho da Costa all played percussion, and Jerry Hey led a horn section with trumpets, flugelhorns, trombones, saxophones, and woodwinds. Humberto Gatica mixed and engineered the sessions, primarily held at Los Angeles’ Sunset Sound.
“Let’s Go Round Again” proves the ideal opener, marrying a slick disco vibe with tight group harmonies and Foster’s rich strings harkening back to the Philadelphia Sound. (Alan Gorrie once named The Spinners as an influence.) It’s followed in a one-two punch by the lithe “What’cha Gonna Do for Me,” one of two tracks here co-written by Hamish Stuart and California soft rock guru Ned Doheny. The other, “Shine,” is an upbeat, spirited, and infectious anthem. Another accomplished artist, Foster’s pal and frequent collaborator Bill Champlin, co-wrote the smooth, mellow, and melodic “For You, For Love” with Roger Ball. It has all the hallmarks and easygoing charm of Foster and Champlin’s blue-eyed soul style.
David Paich’s “Miss Sun,” unreleased until 2003, was originally denied appearance on Shine by the song’s publisher. Boz Scaggs had “claimed” the tune from Toto’s Paich for a 1980 Columbia single, and the publisher didn’t wish to have AWB’s rendition competing with it. (The song’s genesis went back even further – to 1977 – when the members of Toto were cutting demos while working as session musicians on a Lisa Dalbello album produced by Foster. They invited Dalbello to sing on the original demo which Toto eventually released in 1998.) The mix as heard here is less refined than the other tracks; the opening lyric seems to come out of nowhere. Foster and Gatica would likely have tweaked it further, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. The second outtake here, “Wasn’t I Your Friend,” was written by Larry McNally. Affiliated with Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White’s ARC label, McNally would release his own version of the pop-soul dancer on his 1981 solo album. The Average White Band version wasn’t issued until 2009.
On the Strip showcases AWB’s versatility at the turn of a new decade, from Alan Gorrie’s shimmering ballad “If Love Only Lasts for One Night” to Hamish Stuart’s uptempo rocker “Kiss Me.” A raw funk vibe with liquid bass and blasting horns, redolent of the AWB’s earlier days, permeates “Catch Me (Before I Have to Testify),” jointly written by the AWB’s Gorrie, Stuart, Ball, and Ferrone with Foster. Even more explicit in paying tribute to the trademark AWB sound is “Into the Night,” a boisterous and brassy instrumental from Gorrie, Stuart, and Ball with more than a little of the flavor of “Pick Up the Pieces.”
Three of the original Foster-produced tracks from Atlantic Records are sequenced near the end of the album. Hamish Stuart showcases his soaring falsetto on the lush, rhythmic “Love Gives, Love Takes Away” and the swooning, slow “Growing Pains.” The latter has the feel of an Earth, Wind, and Fire ballad such as “After the Love Is Gone,” and boasts fine saxophone work throughout as well as a tight vocal arrangement, delicious horns and strings, and Foster’s keyboards all working in perfect sync. (No wonder Atlantic didn’t want to give this track up!) “Love Won’t Get in the Way” has the loose jam vibe associated with AWB’s finest grooves.
While Shine didn’t fare particularly well in the U.S., it reached a strong top twenty showing in the U.K. and remains a beloved LP there. In putting together this new take on the album, the AWB has dropped three tracks from the Arista release of Shine: “Our Time Has Come,” “Help Is on the Way,” and a closing reprise of “Into the Night.” While this set isn’t a complete accounting of the David Foster Sunset Sessions, it’s an enjoyable one from start to finish. On the Strip – alas, only available on vinyl – features new liner notes in the gatefold by Hamish Stuart and Alan Gorrie describing the unusual circumstances behind its creation. The LPs are each housed in an individual sleeve. Phil Kinrade has mastered everything here. Alas, no CD has been announced for this release.
Demon has paired On the Strip: The Sunset Sessions with an entry in the label’s AWB vinyl reissue series: 1982’s Cupid’s in Fashion. The immediate successor to Shine, it featured production by Dan Hartman and was the original group’s final album. It’s one of AWB’s most varied efforts, relying heavily upon outside songs from Hartman (“You’re My Number One”), Kashif (“Easier Said Than Done”), the European synthpop duo of Keith Forsey and Harold Faltermeyer (“I Believe”), Holland-Dozier-Holland (a cover of their Motown staple “Reach Out I’ll Be There”), and Ned Doheny (“Love’s a Heartache”). Five songs were from within the band’s ranks, including the Stuart/Doheny co-write “Isn’t It Strange.” Cupid’s in Fashion was an attempt to merge the AWB’s style with the changing sound of the 1980s, and succeeded to a degree – but not enough to keep the band together. Neither of its singles charted on either side of the Atlantic, but the album did reach the top 50 of the U.S. R&B survey. Demon’s reissue is pressed, like On the Strip, on 180-gram heavyweight clear vinyl.
- Let’s Go ‘Round Again
- Whatcha Gonna Do for Me
- For You, For Love
- If Love Only Lasts for One Night
- Miss Sun
- Kiss Me
- Catch Me (Before I Have to Testify)
- Into the Night
- Wasn’t I Your Friend
- Love Gives, Love Takes Away
- Growing Pains
- Love Won’t Get in the Way
- You’re My Number One
- Easier Said Than Done
- You Wanna Belong
- Cupid’s in Fashion
- Theatre of Excess
- I Believe
- It Is Love That You’re Running From
- Reach Out (I’ll Be There)
- Isn’t It Strange
- Love’s a Heartache