Phyllis Hyman ‘The Buddah Years’ (SoulMusic) 4/5

Singer Phyllis Hyman belongs to a unique category of musicians including Jean Carn and Norman Connors who were successfully able to combine jazz and soul during the 1970s and beyond and yet during her lifetime she did not receive the amount of commercial success that her vast talent richly deserved. This compilation of her Buddah label work overlaps with another CD that is now some twenty-three years old and while there is overlap in the complete original album, fans of Phyllis Hyman will want to have superior quality sound and some additional bonus cuts not on the Sequel selection from 1990 (the latter does, however, contain the long-time favourite ‘Living inside your love’ which is notable by its absence on the new anthology of the singer’s early years along with three additional tracks and one point has been deducted from the valuation of the new compilation not being as fully comprehensive as it could have been, though copyright issues are probably the main cause). After initially singing at an uptown Manhattan restaurant where she was discovered, Phyllis Hyman first came to prominence as part of Norman Connors group, with ‘You are my starship’ becoming a cult favourite of the era. By the time she recorded this debut album as a leader, she was twenty-six years of age and approaching musical maturity. This is reflected in the sophisticated choice of material and by the masterly songwriters chosen to provide her with new material. With the benefit of hindsight these were the cream of session songwriters and included Linda and Thom Bell (on’ Loving you, losing you’), Gary Glenn (‘Be careful how you treat my love’) and Skip Scarborough (‘No one can love you more’). Of the bonus songs, ‘The answer is you’ is this writer’s favourite and typifies Hyman’s velvety vocals to perfection. The only pity is that she was never encouraged to cut a live album where she could have truly stretched out with some jazzy interpretations. Sadly, a long-term struggle with bipolar disorder resulted in an early death at the age of forty-five in 1995. What now seems all too obvious a musical gift was largely shunned by a music industry solely focused on commercial gain.

This is one of three CDs that the Soul Music label has devoted to Phyllis Hyman’s craft and rightly so.

Tim Stenhouse