By the time Atlantic Starr signed to the Warner Bros. family of labels, the R&B group had already begun its ascent to crossover stardom. At Warner, the band recorded its biggest album to date – 1987’s All In the Name of Love – and scored its biggest hit, “Always.” Now, All In the Name of Love and the two albums which followed it have been reissued by Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint in a compact new 3-CD box set appropriately entitled Always: The Warner/Reprise Recordings (1987-1991).
Herb Alpert took early notice of the nine-member soul/funk band from New York then called Newban. The A&M co-founder encouraged the nonet to change its name, and Atlantic Starr was born. Wayne Lewis (keyboards/vocals), David Lewis (guitars/vocals), Clifford Archer (bass), Porter Carroll, Jr. (drums/vocals), Sharon Bryant (percussion/vocals), Joseph Phillips (percussion/woodwinds), Damon Rentie (woodwinds), Jonathan Lewis (trombone/percussion), and William Sudderth III (trumpet) were joined by Philly soul great Bobby Eli as producer for their first two A&M albums. As of their third LP, 1981’s Radiant, Koran Daniels was in the saxophone seat following the departure of Damon Rentie, and Motown veteran James Anthony Carmichael (The Commodores, The Jackson 5) was the producer. Carmichael steered Atlantic Starr for three albums and through the departure of Sharon Bryant. The title of 1985’s As the Band Turns reflected the changes in the group’s line-up. Atlantic Starr was now a quintet with the three Lewis brothers, Joseph Phillips, and new vocalist Barbara Weathers replacing Bryant. This was the streamlined band that joined Warner Bros. in 1987.
All In the Name of Love found David and Wayne Lewis stepping into the producer’s chair. They tapped Gene Page to write the string and horn arrangements and welcomed additional musicians including saxophonist Gerald Albright, and percussionists Gary Coleman and Paulinho da Costa. (Guest musicians had been a part of Atlantic Starr’s sound since their first albums with Bobby Eli.) Warner Bros. was quickly repaid for its investment in the group when the shimmering ballad “Always” became Atlantic Starr’s biggest hit. The Lewis brothers’ song became a No. 1 Pop, R&B, and AC smash, also reaching No. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart – the band’s highest ever placement there. In his new liner notes, Charles Waring quotes Jonathan Lewis as remembering that the band hoped to place “Always” with an established artist like Kenny Rogers, but James Carmichael encouraged them to keep it for themselves. Keeping with the times, the balance of the album was filled with bright dance-pop, mellow balladry, and lithe, electronic-based funk grooves. Page’s charts added an extra dimension and hailed back to Atlantic Starr’s early days when Don Renaldo’s Horns and Strings were in the mix. The success of “Always” as well as the moderate hit “One Lover at a Time” propelled the album to Platinum certification and a top 20 Pop/top 5 R&B placement on the Billboard charts. The original CD of the album featured two bonus tracks (the Maurice White-helmed soundtrack cut “Armed and Dangerous” from the 1986 film of the same name and “I’m in Love”), both of which are reprised here along with four bonus single mixes.
But like Sharon Bryant before her, Barbara Weathers soon left Atlantic Starr to pursue a solo career. (The dissolution of her relationship with Wayne Lewis also affected her decision.) Porscha Martin took Weathers’ place for 1989’s We’re Movin’ Up. Its lead single, the silky “My First Love,” hoped to repeat the success of “Always” and indeed topped the R&B chart. But it failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100 and stalled Atlantic Starr’s chances of growing a pop fanbase. Still, the LP (once again arranged by Gene Page) is very much of a piece with its predecessor, adeptly blending then-contemporary pop and R&B styles into an enjoyable whole. The original bonus tracks “Love Ain’t Fair” and “Woman’s Touch” have been retained plus four additional single mixes.
Atlantic Starr was shuttled to Warner Bros.’ Reprise imprint for 1991’s Love Crazy, the final album in this set. The revolving door of vocalists continued with Rachel Oliver taking Porscha Martin’s spot; Joseph Phillips had also left the group. The lead single and title track augured well for the album when it reached No. 7 on the R&B chart. So did songwriter Kenny Nolan’s “Masterpiece,” one of four tracks with Gene Page’s signature strings. The ballad from the co-writer of “Lady Marmalade” and “My Eyes Adored You” returned the band to nearly the top of the pops, notching a No. 3 spot on the Hot 100, No. 3 R&B, and No. 2 AC. Elsewhere, the album reflected the influence of hip-hop and New Jack Swing. Yet Love Crazy never built on the success of its singles, leading to a parting of the ways between Warner and Atlantic Starr.
SoulMusic’s collection ends there, though Atlantic Starr went on to an Arista album, Time, in 1994. The band has since endured further personnel shifts to record three more independent albums, the most recent of which is 2017’s Metamorphosis. The three discs in this box set are housed in individual sleeves within a clamshell case, and a thick 32-page booklet includes credits, front and back covers of all three LPs, and Waring’s lengthy essay drawing on quotes from Jonathan Lewis and Rachel Oliver-Cobbin. Nick Robbins has done his customarily fine job remastering.
Always: The Warner/Reprise Recordings (1987-1991) is out now at the links below.
Disc 1: All in the Name of Love: Expanded Edition
- One Lover At a Time
- You Belong with Me
- Don’t Take Me for Granted
- Armed and Dangerous
- Let the Sun In
- I’m in Love
- All in the Name of Love
- My Mistake
- One Lover At a Time (Extended Version)
- Let the Sun In (Extended Remix)
- All in the Name of Love (Single Version)
- Always (Single Edit)
Tracks 1-12 released as Warner Bros. Records 25560, 1987
Track 13 released on Warner Bros. Records 12″ 0-20699, 1987
Track 14 released on Warner Bros. Records 12″ 0-20917, 1987
Track 15 released on Warner Bros. Records single 7-28215, 1987
Track 16 released on Warner Bros. Records single 7-28455, 1987
Disc 2: We’re Movin’ Up: Expanded Edition
- Under Your Spell
- Bring It Back Home Again
- I’m in Love with You
- Don’t Start the Fire
- Love Ain’t Fair
- My First Love
- Woman’s Touch
- We’re Movin’ Up
- My Sugar
- I Can’t Wait
- You Deserve the Best
- Bring It Back Home Again (Joe Smooth Extended Mix)
- Bring It Back Home Again (Joe Smooth Underground Mix)
- My First Love (Extended Mix)
- My First Love (7″ Edit)
Tracks 1-12 released as Warner Bros. Records 25849, 1989
Tracks 13-14 released on Warner Bros. Records 12″ 0-21406, 1989
Tracks 15-16 released on Warner Bros. Records 12″ 0-21168, 1989
Disc 3: Love Crazy (Reprise 26545, 1991)
- I Can’t Wait
- What’s Good for You
- Love Crazy
- Hold On
- Lookin’ for Love Again
- Come Lover
- You Hit the Spot
- Girl, Your Love’s So Fine
- My Special Lover
- Unconditional Love