Ronnie McNeir ‘Ronnie McNeir’ (Dusty Groove) 4/5

ronnie-mcneirModern soul singer Ronnie McNeir is a multi-talented musician who has combined songwriting, singing and keyboard playing duties throughout his career. Indeed he began his musical training as a pianist before setting off to California where he met Kim Weston who was instrumental in securing an album deal for him with RCA. As McNeir explained in a 1990s interview for UK Vibe, despite the early local success of the album he did not feel the label marketed it sufficiently well, “I did my first album, 1972. It was on RCA records and they didn’t push it…Although it was doing well. It went to no. 1 in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Louisville’. The album as a whole works convincingly as a concept one and where between individual songs musical interludes and raps interweave, doubtless taking a leaf out of the Isaac Hayes approach at the time. In time the eponymously titled album would become a modern soul classic that fans would search for. Of immediate interest is ‘In Summertime’ with its fender-driven intro and beautifully constructed harmony while on the uptempo stomper ‘I’m So Grateful’, there are gospel overtones with McNeir’s voice emerging to the fore and overall a Motown feel in evidence. With the use of tambourines for effect, ‘Gone Away’ is another song with the underlying influence of Detroit. The musical collage feel to the album is created by the instrumental interludes and dialogues between songs and clearly the recent release at the time of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On’ exerted an influence upon musicians at the time. This is illustrated by ‘Daddy’s Comin’ Home’, a lovely mid-tempo number that draws upon the Gaye classic, even though the laid back delivery of the vocals hint more at Leroy Hutson. The presence of Gaye is felt also on ‘Trouble’s A Loser’ with the instrumentation similar to that of Marvin’s soundtrack album ‘Trouble Man’ and came out the same year as McNeir’s album so he may possibly have heard it before recording. McNeir would go on to record for the Motown side label Prodigal in 1975 and he recorded a self-titled album for the main label a year later. However, he remained outside the mainstream and it was left to British soul fans to champion his cause as a leader with ‘Everybody’s In A Hurry’ being a particular favourite among modern soul fans. Ronnie became part of a later re-incarnation of the Four Tops and as a producer worked with the likes of Smoky Robinson, David Ruffin and Teena Marie among others.

Tim Stenhouse