Carrie Lucas ‘Dance With You: The Solar and Constellation Albums’ 3CD (SoulMusic) 4/5

The Sound of Los Angeles Records, or Solar to use its diminutive and better known name, was one of the late disco era labels of choice and the likes of Dynasty, Shalamar and the Whispers, to name but three, typified the sound. A top backing band ensured a clearly distinctive of prominent bass lines, clipped rhythm guitar, thumping drum beats and collective handclaps all in tandem. One singer who had a significantly lower profile, yet became known as, ‘The first lady of Solar’, was Carrie Lucas, who just happened to also be the wife of label owner and co-founder, Dick Griffey. That is not to detract from her undoubted and underrated vocal talent, and she scored a major disco hit in the UK with, ‘Dance with you’, that departed somewhat from the later Solar sound and was far more in the disco mainstream, with whirling strings. That single hit a nerve with dance and pop fans alike in the UK and entered into the top forty before even the Whispers had scored with, ‘The beat goes on’, and followed on from the success of Shalamar, who British disco, pop and soul fans immediately identified with. The three CDs cover the period 1977-1984, are neatly divided chronologically up into two albums per CD and, rather than feature facsimile covers of the original albums, the CD inner covers are awash with photos of Carrie from the late 1970s. Full marks to Soul Music for the excellent packaging and the previous one CD, ‘Best of’, does not even begin to compare with this infinitely more exhaustive box set.

Born in California, Carrie Lucas was a versatile singer whose musical influences included the soulful Chaka Khan, then plying her trade with Rufus, and Sarah Vaughan. Lucas’ voice was a sweet one and not in the same league as some of the disco divas of the calibre of Loleatta Holloway, or Rochelle Fleming, the superb lead singer from First Choice. However, it was nonetheless a soulful one and it would be both unfair and indeed inaccurate to stereotype Lucas as solely a dance oriented artist. She was in fact very open to different genres and deserved to be heard in more than a dance oriented groove. Her first bona fide disco hit came in 1977 with, ‘I gotta keep dancing’ and the full length version is included here, and indeed it scored highly on the disco charts when the genre was reaching its apogee. The song was not typical of the later Solar sound and was far more akin to the disco mainstream, which meant minor chord keyboards, relentless percussion and whirling strings. A follow-up single, ‘Gotta get away from your love’, repeated the disco formula and was a hit in the US disco charts. In truth, the first CD with the debut albums, ‘Simply Carrie’ (1977) and ‘Street Corner Symphony’ (1978), was really a first attempt at establishing Lucas’ recording credentials and such as indistinguishable from a good deal of the disco-oriented product of the era.

Far more convincing is the second CD which combines, ‘In danceland’ (1979), with, ‘Portrait of Carrie’ (1980). It is the former that features the uptempo, ‘Dance with you’, in its full 12″ version and one of the unusual features of the song is the Hammond organ which you hardly ever hear from disco acts, with the notable exception of Brazilian jazz-funk outfit Azymuth and their opus, ‘Jazz Carnival’. In fact, the first album was viewed by husband Griffey as a concept album with disco now in the mainstream and that is reflected in the music. By the time the album had been released, the Solar explosion was now in full swing with Dynasty, Lakeside, (at slightly later date) Midnight Star, Shalamar and the Whispers all hitting the soul charts with frequent regularity. Lucas, however, was developing as a gifted songwriter and one shining example is the song, ‘A song for Donny’, dedicated to the then recently deceased Donny Hathaway, and it is a song that was covered by the Whispers, and has become over time something of a soul standard.

It was with, ‘Portrait of Carrie (1980), arguably her strongest album all round, that the singer first worked with Leon Sylvers III who produced three of the songs, including the full-length virtually eight minutes take on, ‘Keep smilin’, from 1980 with the Whispers on background vocals. It now sounds like a prototype boys town disco anthem. Another song of interest is, ‘Fashion’ (not to be confused with the David Bowie song), that was co-written by members of the group Dynasty, while, ‘It’s not what you got’, is another dancefloor number. However, for sheer variety, Lucas truly excels on the soulful ballad, ‘Just a memory’, and had she only been pushed further in this direction, Carrie Lucas could have given even Deniece Williams a serious run for her money in the soulful ballads department. Carrie Lucas was definitely not a one-dimensional singer, even if the songs crafted for her tended to straitjacket her in that direction. Her fifth album, ‘Still in love’ (1982), belongs to the post-disco era and she worked closely with the Whispers songwriting team. That collaboration resulted in, ‘Show me where you’re coming from’, written by Leon Sylvers. A final album from 1984, ‘Horsin’ around’, included a top 20 R & B single that saw Lucas successfully cover what became a revival hit in the lovely gentle flowing early R & B hit number, ‘Hello stranger’ (with the Whispers on background vocals), originally penned by Barbara Lewis. Thereafter, Carrie Lucas decided to retire from the professional music business and devote her life to bringing up her children who share her love of music in its myriad forms. Carrie Lucas would tour with the Whispers and other Solar artists during the late 1970s and into the early 1980s when the label was at its peak.

Tim Stenhouse