Ronnie Dyson ‘Lady in Red. The Columbia Sides Plus’ (Cherry Red/SoulMusic) 4/5

ronnie-dysonNorthern Soul fans know him best as a result of this compilation title track, but the precociously talented falsetto vocalist Ronnie Dyson was easily able to adept to ballads, gospel-inspired and uptempo numbers with aplomb and this long overdue tribute covers the essential first album on Columbia plus some tasty and hard to find 45s. There is some overlap with the 1995 US CD re-issue on the Collectables label with the album as a whole reproduced in its entirety here, but that is where the parallel ends and this new single CD anthology incorporates some excellent singles from slightly later in his relatively brief career as well as at the very beginning. It begins with the one RCA label number, ‘Aquarius’ and this is fact the point at which Dyson’s career took off when he earned the lead role in the musical ‘Hair’. By 1970 Dyson had secured a deal with Columbia and that first album featured a mixture of originals and covers, the latter represented by a lovely interpretation of ‘Make it with you’. The album ‘(If you let me make love to you)why can’t I touch you?’ was a top ten R & B album chart hit and was just outside the pop chart top fifty and the title track itself was a minor soul hit with a mid-tempo groove and an uplifting percussive drum beat. A stronger song was the follow-up, ‘I don’t wanna cry’ which included some gorgeous gospel-infused female vocals. Fast forward a few years and Ronnie Dyson was now in peak form and delivering Philly-inspired ballads, covering ‘Just don’t want to be lonely’ and then the pièce de résistance, ‘Lady in Red’. This was recorded under Philly International musician and producer Norman Harris and it is such a stunning and classy mid-tempo dancer that one wonders why it never enjoyed any success at the time. It has entered northern soul legend and why Dyson was not immediately hooked up with Sigma studios for an entire album of the Philly sound will remain one of the great mysteries for his voice was ideally suited to the lush jazzy orchestrations. A second album did in reality include a first single written by Philly song writing duo Thom Bell and Linda Creed. One joyous bonus cut is the extended version of a gospel song, ‘Jesus is just alright’ and Dyson could and, perhaps, should have enjoyed a parallel career in this field. Tragically his life was cut short and he passed away in 1990 aged only forty. A great loss to the world of soul music. Informative inner sleeve notes featuring an interview with the singer are rounded off by the original LP notes reprinted in full. A fine way for newcomers and long-time fans will still want to acquire the rarer 45s in one place.

Tim Stenhouse