Vernon Burch ‘When I Get Back Home’ (BBR) 4/5

If the term neo-soul was coined at some stage during the 1990s, then Vernon Burch’s 1976 album contained within pre-dates it by a good twenty years and has been a major re-discovery. What is of particular interest is that there is a large dose of input from none other than Stevie Wonder when he as as the apogee of his musical powers and in fact Wonder was recording at the same studio in Los Angeles and by chance came across Burch who had paid for recording time until midnight. The result was that key members of the Wonder band perform on the majority of tracks and they include keyboardist Greg Philinganes and the brass section comprising trumpeter Ray Maldonado and saxophonist Hank Redd. The cherry on the cake, however, is the participation of Stevie Wonder himself on three songs, performing on keyboards. A young twenty-one year old Burch was clearly inspired and the overall sound is a halfway house between mid-1970s Donny Hathaway and Wonder himself. Interestingly Burch composed virtually all the songs, but simply being in the same studio as Mr Wonder has definitely rubbed off. Probably the best known song is ‘Mr Sin’ which was co-written by Susaye Greene (who also wrote ‘I can’t help it’ for Michael Jackson) and is a delightful gospel-influenced song in a secular idiom with harmonies that are straight out of mid-1970s Stevie Wonder singer-songwriter period. Even stronger is ‘To make you stay’ which could have comfortably featured on any Wonder album of the period. Almost as good is the mid-tempo ‘Paradise’ once again with Wonder as instrumentalist while for uptempo soulful grooves the title track is the pick of the bunch. Not everything sounds timeless and the funk tunes ‘Ghetto penthouse’ and ‘Good to me’ are a little dated. Two bonus single versions are added and include another uptempo song ,’Leaving you is killing me’.The only pity is that Vernon Burch was unable to reproduce this sound on subsequent albums and eventually he moved to Chocolate City records whom he signed for in 1978. Two albums and a 1981 top 20 R & B single ‘Do it to me’ followed, but Burch had ambitions elsewhere and became a reverend. He re-surfaced musically in 2011 with a new project. A case of a lost talent to the world of soul music, but this album captures him at his inventive best.

Tim Stenhouse