Stephanie Mills ‘For The First Time’ (BBR) 4/5

stephanie-millsHere is an unusual item in the Stephanie Mills repertory on Motown from 1975 and one that dates from her mid-teens before she had scored a hit single. This was at roughly the same time as she was rehearsing for the musical version of the ‘Wiz’, which was a reworking of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Co-produced by the dynamic duo of Hal David and Burt Bacharach, it is the classiest of outings and should be viewed as an attempt to update the sound the two created for Dionne Warwick in the 1960s. That evergreen formula was transposed to the young teenager and thankfully Mills’ voice had already matured and quite distinctive at that which makes for an entertaining listen. All ten songs were written by David and Bacharach and therefore the recording as a whole has their unique signature to it with some trademark string arrangements. What comes across from the opener, the mid-tempo ‘I took my strength from you’, is that Stephanie Mills possessed a voice way beyond her years and thus the mature accompaniment is not at all out of place here. A nod to ‘Do you know the way to San José’ which Dionne Warwick immortalised comes in the shape of the light and breezy ‘Loneliness remembers (what happiness forgets)’ which is a contender for the album’s finest outing while the classy ‘If you can learn how to cry’ is a timeless soul song. The seven bonus songs are taken from a separate session and are not quite of the same calibre, but interesting nonetheless. It would be another four years before Stephanie Mills truly hit the big time with ‘Never knew love like this before’, but all the ingredients were already there as this fine re-issue attests.

Tim Stenhouse