Deniece Williams – Free: The Columbia/ARC Recordings 1977-1988 (review 2021) (Review)

Denice Williams – Free: The Columbia/ARC Recordings 1977-1988

My hometown of Gary, Indiana has always been home to extremely talented people. It was never more evident than in 1984. Michael Jackson Polar was still a chart-topping album two years after its release. Pioneering gymnast Dianne Durham reached the final of the 1984 Olympic trials after becoming the first black gymnast to win the US national championship in 1983 and was favored to lead the team to the 1984 Olympics before injuries wiped out that dream. Singer Deniece Williams topped the pop charts with his song “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”, which received radio airplay and was featured in the hit movie “Footloose”.

We were proud of all of them, and each of them had aspects related to their history that could inspire people living in a city going through difficult times. However, Williams’ story was arguably the most relevant. As detailed in the accompanying notes of Deniece Williams Free: The Columbia/ARC Recordings 1976-1988 – a box set of the 11 albums Williams made during his 12 years as a hitmaker for Columbia Records – Williams’ story included the kind of real-life choices that can turn a dream into a delayed dream or even a deferred dream.

Between when Williams recorded singles as Deniece Chandler on two Chicago-based labels in the late 1960s and early 70s and her breakthrough 1976 album It’s Niecy, Williams went to college, started a family, entered the working world, then toured with Stevie Wonder as a member of Wonderlove, his backing vocalists. Williams had therefore had a lifetime of experiences before catching the ears of Maurice White and Charles Stepney. Once producers such as White, Stepney and George Duke began working with Williams, she became one of the most consistent hitmakers of the 1970s and 80s.

Fans will hear all of Williams’ great hits in this well-made box set. The liner notes detail every song on each of these albums and include quotes from collaborators such as the great Johnny Mathis, who performed with Williams on the 1978 album. That’s what friends are forwhich gave Williams his first major crossover hit with “Two Much Too Little Too Late”.

The box set will remind listeners of the ease with which Williams handled ballads like her debut “Free” It’s Niecy and “Silly” from the excellent my melody album, and how that was matched by the energy Williams put into out-of-tempo tunes like “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”, “Baby Baby, My Love’s All for You” and “I’ve Got the Last Dance “. Williams’ albums were well balanced and always featured gospel or inspirational songs, such as “Believe In Miracles” by Niecy. This album also included another Williams signature, a version of the Royalettes “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle”, a cut that became one of Williams’ biggest and most beloved hits.

Deniece Williams Free will also rediscover or reacquaint fans and newcomers with some of the lesser-known gems that Williams has sung – and in many cases had a hand in writing. “The Paper”, a fascinating cut found on Williams’ second album songbird, is a track that captures Williams’ virtues as a songwriter and singer. The track tells the story of the flood of emotions that overwhelms a person about to sign their divorce papers, which Williams herself had experienced at that time.

Williams was an adult who had experienced many ups and downs in life at the time she hit hard, and these experiences often carried over into her songs, whether she describes an intimate night with someone you want to be more that a friend in “That’s What Friends Are For,” the painful self-awareness you play in “Silly,” or the realization that a relationship is officially over, which is the case with ” ThePaper”.

This compilation shows that Williams is one of the most underrated artists of this era and it’s time to take a fresh look at the depth and brilliance of her work. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

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