Crown Heights Affair ‘Dreaming A Dream’ / ‘Do It Your Way’ / ‘Dream World’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

Disco at its rootsiest best is one way to describe the musical institution that started off the somewhat non-descript Nue Day Express appellation, but upon signing to De-Lite and changing their name to the Crown Heights Affair, fame was just around the corner and with it a place in the disco hall of fame. Matters in hand commence with an early example of disco in ‘Dreaming A Dream’ (1975), that contained the best and worst of the genre. On the plus side, the hi-hat cymbals, brass and synths hint at what was to come and here we have instrumental tracks of distinction. On the minus side, finding the right balance of soulful input, in this case, the need for a strong male vocalist. Two vastly different versions of the title track, the first and an instrumental, by far the superior, and a prototype of the classic CHA sound. The latter, a mid-tempo soulful groove that the group would need further albums to perfect. Another promising disco instrumental comes in ‘Foxy’ complete with monologue and clavinet.

A year later, the group tried again with ‘Do It Your Way’, and in truth, the Crown Heights Affair were still very much at an embryonic stage in their development. That the band were still searching for their own sound is illustrated by the ‘son of Shaft’ soundalike, ‘Dancin’, with an all too familiar guitar riff, updated for a younger disco audience. A soul-stepper of a tune in, ‘Love Me’, is one bright spot in an otherwise average bunch of songs, with the corny, ‘French Way’, way too predictable and jumping on the disco bandwagon rather than making its own waves. Thankfully, creative help was on hand, and a potential rare groove contender to resurrect in the early jazz-funk outing, ‘Far Out’, which could easily be a lost Incognito track from the early 1980’s and with strong hint of Brass Construction. In urgent need of a revival, this writer thinks.

However, out of this period of musical exploration and hit and miss affairs, came the first of their classic recordings, ‘Dream World’ (1978). Suddenly, the vocal department got soulful, the band was tight and the songs became immortal. One major caveat is that the extended 12″ of ‘Say A Prayer For Two’, with the stunning repeated refrain is bizarrely not included here as a bonus. Why leave that out? No attempt either at including re-edits of the all-time great disco monster. A major omission. That said, the shorter album version is still a wonderful example of the clubland classic, with stunning bass line and synths plus that killer drum pattern. Opening proceedings ‘Galaxy Of Love’, was a similar dancefloor winner. Sleeve notes come courtesy of Christian John Wikane with band photos and label graphics. If this was volume one of the CHA story, the next part would yield major commercial success. Volume two to follow shortly.

Tim Stenhouse