Curtis Hairston ‘Curtis Hairston’ Expanded Edition (SoulMusic) 3/5

curtis-hairstonThose readers who did not live through the soul music of the 1980s will probably never have heard of singer Curtis Hairston and that is a great shame since he possessed a truly stunning voice. His main claim to fame in the UK came as the result of an underground dance floor hit in ‘I Want You All Tonight’ as well as a rare 12″ in ‘Summertime’, and it is a pity that neither are included here because they would have provided a de facto ‘Greatest Hit’s’ package. Sadly, Hairston’s life was tragically cut short by terminal illness and this 1986 album has to offer an alternative opportunity to hear his voice in full bloom. In fairness, this extended edition does contain no less than 5 12″ mixes and with it coming up to the thirtieth anniversary of the original release this year, it is, then, somewhat fitting that Hairston should be remembered now.
Some of the finest studio musicians of the era were enlisted to accompany the singer and these included Amir Bayyan of Kool & The Gang, guitarist Mike Campbell of Change, and Clifford Branch with background vocalists of the calibre of Jocelyn Brown and Alyson Williams providing excellent back up. Moreover, the song writing talent of Labelle member Nona Hendryx was deployed and while the results are not earth shattering, there are some strong dance-oriented cuts that typify the mid-1980s layered production sound. A strong opener in ‘The Morning After’ showcased Hairston’s deeply melodic and soulful delivery and saw substantial dance floor action with catchy melodic guitar and keyboard riff, and strong vocal harmonies. A second uptempo groove predominates on, ‘Let’s Make Love Tonight’, with a bass line that is reminiscent of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’. However, Curtis Hairston was a versatile performer and that is illustrated on the ballad ‘(You’re my) Shining Star’ as well as on the acoustic sounding, ‘All We Have Is Love’. Hairston could and, perhaps, should have enjoyed a wider pop audience at a time when Luther Vandross ruled the roost within the world of soul music. Another thumping dance floor oriented track is ‘Take Charge’ and this sound was very much flavour of the month at the time, even if in retrospect it is rather formulaic in nature. More impressive is ‘Chillin’ out’ where Hairston’s distinctive voice comes to the fore. A well packaged and excellent value for money set for those who wish to revive the era of shoulder pads and frizzy hair dos.

Tim Stenhouse