Ashford and Simpson ‘High Rise’ (BBR/Cherry Red) 3/5

Ashford-and-SimpsonSinger-songwriter duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson personified all that was good about Motown and penned some of the most endearing hits for other artists including Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and the Supremes with ‘You’re all I need to get by’, ‘Remember me’ and of course ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’. By the mid-1970s Simpson had recorded a brace of albums in her own right, but as a duo it was from the mid-1970s that they really took off with the sensational ‘Bourgie Bourgie’, ‘Over and Over’, ‘Flashback’, ‘It seems to hang on’ and ‘Found a cure’ all enjoying chart sucess between 1977 and 1979. They even managed to fit in more production duties, producing the well received ‘Boss’ album for Diana Ross that included the dancefloor anthem of the title track. By 1983, Ashford and Simpson were simply among the most respected of singer-songwriters and this is reflected in the top notch backing musicians who graced the studios of L.A. While not an out and out classic in the vein of the prime mid-late 1970s period, ‘High Rise’ is significant in that it directly preceded what would turn out to be the biggest hit of their own singing careers with 1984’s ‘Solid’, eclipsing even their disco era successes. The sweet harmonies that characterised the duo’s vocal prowess are in evidence on the uplifting ‘Side Effect’ while club land would warm to the funk-tinged bass of ‘It’s much deeper’. However, it is arguably the ballads that are strongest of all and ‘I’m not that tough’ and especially ‘My kinda’ pick me up’ showcase not only their songwriting talents, but equally their ability to share lead vocals within a given song. As a bonus, the 12″ version of the title track is coupled with an M & M instrumental mix and the vocal version was a minor R & B hit, securing a place just outside the top ten in the US. Global success with ‘Solid’ a year or so later was just around the corner and this album witnesses Ashford and Simpson in a temporary in-between period veering towards a more pop sensibility that would find its zenith with the ‘Solid’ single and album.

Tim Stenhouse