Dee Dee Warwick: The Complete ATCO Recordings

DeeDeeWarwick_TheCompleteAtcoRecordingsThe early ’70s recordings of a talented soul sister

Dionne Warwick’s younger sister, Dee Dee, may have had less commercial success, but in many ways, she was the stronger singer. Coming from an extended family that also included gospel singing aunt Cissy Houston and superstar cousin Whitney Houston, Warwick’s lack of hits is especially confounding when weighed against the wealth of music industry heavyweights that tried to help her break out. Her older sister succeeded in large part through the creation of a unique place in pop music; Dee Dee, on the other hand, sang more straightforward soul that put her in direct competition with the stars of Atlantic, and the attention of her label.

Warwick recorded for Jubilee (where she waxed the original version of “You’re No Good“), Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger, Hurd, Mercury and its subsidiary Blue Rock throughout the 1960s. She landed in the R&B Top 20 several times, and crossed over to the pop charts with 1966’s “I Want to Be With You.” But in 1970 she was lured to the Atlantic subsidiary ATCO by the label group’s president, Jerry Wexler. By that point, ATCO had been quite successful in the rock marketplace, but hadn’t penetrated the soul and R&B markets its parent label had helped define. Wexler paired Warwick with producer Ed Townend (with whom she’d worked at Mercury), but shelved the four excellent tracks that lead off this collection, including Townsend’s dynamic “You Tore My Wall Down.”

Next up were sessions at Miami’s famed Criteria Studios with the Dixie Flyers as the backing band and the Sweet Inspirations as backing vocalists. This resulted in the 1970 album Turning Around, which spawned two singles, including the R&B hit “She Didn’t Know (She Kept on Talking).” The album drew material from soul writers Charles Whitehead, Gary U.S. Bonds, Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams and Van McCoy, but also from country writers Charlie Rich (“Who Will the Next Fool Be”) and Jerry Crutchfield (“A Girl Who’ll Satisfy Her Man”), and pop songwriters Jimmy Webb (“If This Was the Last Song”) and Pat Upton (“More Today Than Yesterday”). Arif Mardin’s string arrangements accompany several tracks, but it’s the gospel-blue Southern soul of the Dixie Flyers and Warwick’s passionate performances that provide the dominant flavors. To reproduce the album’s running order, program disc one, tracks 12, 6, 9, 14, 5, 13, 8, 10, 7, 11.

For her third sessions of 1970, ATCO sent Warwick even deeper into the South, to the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Three singles were released from the ten tracks laid down, and only one, a cover of “Suspicious Minds,” charted. The unreleased tracks (disc one, tracks 15 and 17, and disc two, tracks 5 and 7) are solid productions, with full bass lines, crisp horns and good material from Ashford & Simpson, Little Jimmy Scott and Brill Building graduate, David Gates. The latter cover of Bread’s “Make it With You” is more soulful than one had a right to hope, but it’s ill-fitting and suggests that ATCO (and producers Dave Crawford and Brad Shapiro) simply didn’t know how to help Warwick achieve commercial success.

To their credit, ATCO still didn’t give up, sending Warwick to record at Detroit’s Pac-Three Studio in 1971. The sessions’ lone single, “Everybody’s Got to Believe in Something” b/w “Signed Dede,” failed to chart, and more than half of the tracks (including two alternate versions included here) were left in the vault. Among the previously unreleased material, the most unusual are Warwick’s takes on Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams.” Warwick takes off in a soulful vein from Patsy Cline’s countrypolitan interpretation for the master recording, but really lays on the funk for the alternate take. Bacharach & David’s “In the Land of Make Believe,” which had been recorded by Dusty Springfield, as well as big sister Dionne, fits Dee Dee’s emotional vocal between the low bass line and high strings.

Warwick recorded three additional tracks for ATCO at Atlantic’s New York studio in 1972, but with more successful soul sirens to promote, Atlantic let her slip back to Mercury. Her two-year recording career for ATCO is fully collected in the thirty-five tracks on these two discs, including non-LP singles, B-sides, her sole LP for the label, session material that was available on compilations, and a dozen previously unreleased tracks. Mike Milchner’s remastered all the material at SonicVision, and the 16-page booklet includes detailed liner notes by David Nathan. It adds up to a picture of a terrifically talented vocalist whose career never reached synergy between material, performance and promotion. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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