Dionne -Kisses (Cyren America Records, 1991)
Like a star lit moment on the dance floor, this iconic piece of house excellence slides down and greets you right there and then, ready to transform and transcend you to new and exciting heights.
There are moments occasionally when listening to house music that you can picture the moving floor, the collection of bodies grooving to the flow, all together under the sweat and heat of the night, ready to elevate both mentally and physically. You feel the essence run right from its rhythms and melodic passages, the meaning dripping from every single facet of the sound, the soul and pulse of the genre doing a number on us, even if we just sit here on our sofas, reminiscing the dances that came before and the nights that might get lifted as a result of certain tunes and records being played at just the right time. Its the manner in which it channels into the emotive side of our sub conscious, worming its way into a place where our joyous sensibilities get the better of us, washing over us in waves upon waves of tender feels and gentle embraces, a moment where the mood and environment start to warm the sides of our visions. Being there on the floor, when the most intrinsically deep slice of house is playing, remains one of our favourite moments to get lost within, with the vibes filling up the room with all kinds of notions and motions, transporting the little room to places far away. The art of the vocal is one of house's strongest traditions, with the roots in disco, italo and the like transferring over into the Chicago scene during the 1980s, where a wide variety of vocalists would turn their talents to the emerging sound, that would go on to morph many times over in the years to come. Singers would add another side to the narrative, a floating commentary on your emotional journey for the night, commanding the floor with their dynamic tone, moving between the gears to lead the way down into the mix, contextualising the feel with their powerful lyrics and moving sweeps. The vocalists would move with the music, exploring the melodic features coming before them as they laid down on top of proceedings, adding a soaring touch to the flows moving forward, crafting a world that was filled up the heart and the soul in equal measure, a glimpse into the power of the voice as a tool to move people in the dance. Be it more of a Dj tool, or simply as a lead line, vocals during the classic era of Chicago house and within the genre's movement into the early 90s, they played a significant role in refining the art of vocal performance in the context of dance music, with many other genres following suit as people around the world responded enthusiastically to the music. There's nothing better than a thread of tracks which pulsate without the inclusion of words, before moving into a vocal laden track that sets the place on fire with its pure enthusiasm and power, its grace and endless energy leaving the words stuck in our head for time infinitum.
Beryl Dionne Warren was very much a vocalist in this mould, with her particular voice remaining as a stand out for its beauty, range and the way in which it responded and crafted the worlds that existed around it. Warren sang on numerous house music records during the late 80s and 90s, all of which exude a varying kind of joyous energy in differing ways, with her voice acting alongside a variety of styles and progressions to great effect, indicating her ability to adapt and showcase what her voice is capable of. Her voice remains one of incredible tenderness, sharp and sweet at the same time with a knack for hitting the high note at all the right moments, allowing for a full transcendental moment to occur to all those in attendance. Her voice and the music it is surrounded by feel very bound together, in a sense written very much as compliments to each other, a truly symbiotic relationship that showcases her talents to the fullest extent, the two threads unravelling together to reveal a coupling that feels very real and alive indeed. This allows for her music to really take you on this meandering journey through the melodies and the harmonies of it all, displays filled with emotion and delightful meanderings that consistently amaze with their depth and tone, a two-pronged experience that has you feeling all kinds of ways. Depth, variety and tonal excellence await those who look to her discography, a touching side to it all that takes your breath away, in relation to its majesty and sophistication, with Warren's voice lying at the beating heart of its soul. Some selected highlights include the sheer brilliance of both the classic house 'Come Get My Lovin'' and 'Your Lies' records, which landed in 1988 and 89 respectively, and both demonstrate her vocal range and ability to lend her voice to a very signature sound indeed; the vocal slammer that is the 1991 release ' If U Want My Love', that would ignite any dance floor for days on end; the big time peak hour hands-in-the-air epic that is ' Only Love Can Set U-Free', that landed in 1993; the equally pulsating house anthem that is 'Feel Da Rain', that features excellent edits from Stacy Pullen, Ten Ten and Alton Miller, that landed in 1994; the rave tinged tear jerker that is the 'True Friends' record from 1994;
and finally, the piano laden excellence that is the 'Images' release, that arrived in 1995. All these records show Warren's capabilities as a real talent with the ways of the voice, and its this ability that allowed for the music behind it all to be outstandingly diversity, with a continual evolution in style that remained so compelling for years upon years. Its quite easy to fall down the rabbit hole, and if you start at the beginning you will be immediately hooked into an engrossing world filled with such emotional excellence, the music will eternally wash over the mind and the soul, alongside getting caught in your head a fair amount of the time. Its house music to keep on returning back to, time and time again, and we throughly recommend you checking it out for yourself.
And now we arrive at the subject of todays review, which will focus on her third record, 'Kisses', that landed in 1991 on the iconic Detroit label Cyren America Records. In a slight departure away from her previous two releases that were entrenched in the values of Chicago House, this record has a more cosmic tone to it, perhaps influenced by the sounds of the Motor City, with the same levels of emotive depth to the instrumentals but a greater sense of dynamic flow, with Warren's voice shining as bright as ever, a navigator in a hazy melting pot of emotional sounds. The chords strike true and soft, creating this overwhelmingly intense melodic sequence to proceedings, with each edit of the song really driving home the essence of the tune, as Warren's voice acts like a beacon in this sea of intoxicating rhythm and emotion, an experience unlike anything we have never heard, on one of the best deep house vocal performances going. With four edits of the title track, plus a lush slow jam in 'Special Someone', prepare to get lost in the excellence that exudes from this truly iconic piece of music, a record that embodies all the forward thinkingness that occurred within the genre at the time, with an eye on the future alongside the feel and how house can move people to very special places indeed. So, without further delay, lets get into it....
Up first comes the first take of the title track, with producer Santonio Echols up first with his 'Santonio's Smooth Mix', and we couldn't have asked for a better opener. The track begins off in fairly laid back surroundings, before Warren's voice slides into view, her sequence acting as a beautifully wondering melodic element, as the kicks come in to join proceedings with gusto and purpose, and before long the track arrives into its main crux. The chiming diving chord sequence dominates the backdrop, with the flute like chord and secondary key line adding further complexity into the momentum, as Warren moves and binds the flows together with her excellence, a drifting free flowing element that operates in a gorgeous sea, a vibrancy that you can reach out and touch. The track has this wonderfully swinging beat, never quite embracing the four to the floor formula but instead moving the kicks at the third instance into this kind of chopped up series that creates a real sense of uniqueness, complimenting the keys really well indeed. There's so much to take in, as the track revolves around our minds to its hearts content, and as the track leads into its breakdown and back up again, its a real hands in the air moment, leading right back to the mix as if it never took a dip in energy. Such a stunning piece of music, this one will get stuck in your head for a long, long time. Up next comes the 'A.L.F' mix of the title track, and here we land in immediately quite dubby surroundings. The bass line plays out with all the meaning in the world, with the drums starting off quite subtle before building up into a proper powerful structure indeed, with the dip in energy allowing for the melodic sequences to begin their journey. It starts off with the chiming flute like lead line laden over deep set piano chords, a mixture that will provide the main melodic drivers of the track moving forward, with the second dip in energy allowing time for the cosmic lead line to come into view. Its quite the build up, and when all three features are aligned together its a beautiful thing indeed, with the only thing needed now is Warren's voice to make the vision complete, and when she finds herself in the mix, we completely give ourselves over to proceedings. Its fucking special on so many levels, a utterly compelling backdrop that is seeped in emotion and feel, a tonal masterclass that has crafted elements together that work so very well, a very unique sounding house sound that doesn't compare to most others. The track then moves back into its original sequence for a moment, showcasing its dubby sub base, before flowing right back into the emotive structure that defines the experience, one of giving yourself over to a song totally, a vibe that will flow through your mind for days on end, a slice of iconic gold that ripples through time with its meaning and message. What a tune.
Up next comes the 'Image Intense' mix, and this one starts off immediately with the melodic features leading the way from the front, with Warren's voice left front and centre for this one. This quickly moves into the bass, drums and vocals leading the way, in a wonderful differential to the previous cuts, as Warren puts in a powerhouse vocal performance to drive the track forward, a momentum that is hard to deny or look away from. The other melodic features remain staggered as before, but here the showcasing is the vocals, allowed to freely flow with as much freedom as required, as light piano lines and airy key features move and groove around the beat. Warren's voice demonstrates its full range here, rising high to craft peaks and the softly spoken lines that move the mood down a little bit lower, a beautiful sequence that moves between the varying intensities with all the meaning and feel in the world. Stunning. The final edit of the title track comes in the form of the 'Radio Edit', and this one is a straight up dance floor destroyer. The beat forgoes its meandering presence which characterised the previous cuts in favour of a proper up tempo feel, the kicks demonstrating their full prominence with a feel that drives right through the track from top to bottom. The chiming chord sequence leads the way in terms of progression, taking over the top ranges and filling the track with a real sense of forward momentum, and that isn't even considering Warren's voice yet, which is given yet another mix to laden itself over, and its absolutely mesmerising. The bass pounds along to the rhythm, which shows no signs of slowing at all, and around the two minute mark we see the full spectrum of sound coming into view, with the melodic features making themselves known to all. The engagement is gripping, the progression is just brilliant, and as we close the chapter on the edits of the title track, we feel so invigorated by the excellence on display, with all four cuts showcasing a differing side to the sound, one that at its core is expertly constructed and delivered by Warren with all the meaning and passion in the world. To wrap things up, we have 'Special Someone (Brian's Special Mix)', that was mixed by Brian Hall, and the vibe here is distinctly more slow and chuggy, but the emotional feels are no less on full force. The sultry beats craft the foundation for the melodic tools to do their job on top, with the vocals coming into the verse, lovingly laid on top of proceedings as a wonderful flow that dips and weaves around the base with all the feel and meaning in the world. The keys move between light rotations and deep chord arrangements, crafting a real sense of dynamism and flow, with Warren's voice the main source of inspiration and reference in the track. Its a fitting end to a track filled with iconic melodic flows and vocals to tear down mountains, with a core musical feel running through it all that could lead to 100 differing versions of the tunes being in existence and not feeling over done at all, the core foundations are simply that good. Perfection? probably.
At the heart of this record lies an inherently interesting essence, one that looks to do things a little bit differently and introduce a whole new side to the concept of vocal driven house, and that is what gives the release its endlessly engaging magic. The four versions of the title track give over something new and different each time, in that they understand and respect what the essence of the track is and gives it four differing yet interlinked and compelling sides, with each cut giving over something new in relation to composition and progression. They all work equally effectively, with Warren's voice acting as the lighthouse that brings all the features out from the sea, acting as a pivot where all the keys and drums look to revolve around and permeate from. For us anyway, we haven't heard anything quite like it, or since, and that in itself is testament to the musicians behind the music who were able to blend and delve around the essence of house and craft something that still sounds inherently refreshing to this day. What more could be done here is absolutely nothing, with the music standing so tall above the rest, a deeply moving record that goes to some very emotive laden places indeed. A true stunner, an absolute hallmark, and a timeless piece of music.
Listen to and purchase the record here: