L.R Superstars - Sayin' It (Rare Grooves, 1990)
On their sole LP release, the Superstars combined the many facets of electrified boogie and groove that occurred during the 80s and fine tuned it into a bona fide classic, with every single feel and emotion represented here in glorious technicolour.
The 70s gave us many things, but perhaps in terms of music, Disco was its most significant contribution to the development of club sounds and the soundscape of the 1980s. The genre's soaring popularity towards the end of the 70s saw millions catch the fever, but as the mainstream cashed in with an over saturation of the market with less than favourable efforts that represented soulless cash grabs rather than the free spirit and meaning of the genre, it was only a matter of time until it all came crashing down. The Disco Sucks backlash was the final nail in the coffin, its undertone one certainly entrenched in racial and sexual phobias, and this in turn pushed the genre very much underground, and in many ways back to the drawing board for how the genre could evolve in the future. The 80s oversaw some significant developments in hardware, with synths, bass sequencers and drum machines moving from the perhiperies of experimentalism and very much into the hands of thousands of musicians who were looking to capitalise on this new technology that contained endless possibilities. The spirit of Disco was elevated within this new paradigm of production and composition, with its essence combined with genres like Boogie and Funk to craft sounds that were slightly slower than the fast paced rhythms of Disco but contained all those soaring harmonies and emotive chord progressions. The style of the time became one of spacious percussive structures, light and varied chord progressions, flickering guitar riffs and pulsating bass lines, all set with an audial environment that felt larger, more ambitious and more refined. This melting pot of styles would help to set the stage for the rest of the decade and beyond, with many groups taking the plunge into the post-Disco sound, and the results were a real mixture of differing ambitions, representations and feels. The 'sound' was wide reaching, with many groups setting the boundaries pretty wide and thus allowing themselves to continually explore within the parameters, switching up the formula each time as to keep the listener engaged throughout. Sure, some groups very much stuck to a template that worked, with many achieving lots of success in the mainstream as a result, but some of the best works from this period were those that paired the expected with the unexpected, dipping and diving between differing tempos to deliver up to us wonderful audial narratives that were looking forward as much as they were taking from the past. This step in dance music was incredibly important, with many of these tracks heavily influencing the emerging sounds of House and Electro, along with 80s style production techniques influencing genres like Brit Funk and UK Street Soul, all of which were movements by themselves that innovated enormously. It was a time of feeling, an electrifying of genres like soul and funk and bringing it into a new tonal era, where production techniques and the possibilities of hardware amped up the scale of song writing to include both thoughts on the musical content but also how it all hangs together from a technical point of view. This helped to push the boat out further than ever before, as musicians grabbed the opportunity with both hands to contribute to an era of music that still gives up the goods to this day, with all the energy and relatable content still intact. It was music that could be enjoyed in the club, dancing along with all the other smiling faces and grooving bodies, but also music to be reflected upon at home, with emotional ballads remaining just as important in many records released at this time. Maintaining that balance was integral to the success of the movement, and as we look back now we still see the meaning behind it all, eager and willing to explore the many facets of a group to find music that gives our life meaning.
Out of all the bands who combined the many threads of groove during the 1980s, the L.R Superstars truly shone as an example of how to combine funkified instrumentals with heartfelt soul euphoria. The group hailed from Little Rock in Arkansas, and consisted of Albert L. Smith Sr, Albert L. Smith Jr, Tomaro Coleman and Sid Hill, and the group would have a pretty remarkable abet short career that took them from the little town from hence they came via the kaleidoscope of the ever expanding late 80s and early 90s UK musical scene. The group became known to UK audiences when their tracks 'I Can't Believe It's True/Until We Reach The Top' and 'I Just Can't Say It' featured on two releases from the Budweiser Showdown label, which was a competition run imprint which pressed winning entries onto vinyl, with the Superstars as they were known then being one such group, with these two records selling well in Britain at the time. The success of these two singles would lead to the group signing a record deal with the short lived but pretty compelling imprint Rare Grooves, and the rest, well is history. The music which the Superstars released is a true representation of the many faces of 80s boogie and groove, with a mixture of powerfully considered ballads transposed alongside upbeat electrically laden dance floor cuts, of which helps to lend a considerable feel and vibe to the listening experience. The appeal of the group doesn't just come from the blend of styles, but from the sublime instrumentalism on display, with a deft blend of intricate rhythmic flourishes propelling the core groove onwards and upwards, an inviting sound that always accommodates us within its warm embrace. You find yourself closing your eyes as you try to weave and dip throughout the magic being displayed, moving through the layers of guitar, drums and keys to rise to the top where the vocal displays reign supreme, and oh how these vocals cater for the heart and soul. There's very much a sense of appreciation for the past decade in their music, with an emphasis placed upon the swinging 80s beat and dense chordal progressions, but there's also an eye placed on the future, with some of their works containing numerous references and unique blends that characterised the context in which the music was made. Its all just so wonderful to the ears, a totality in experience that provides the most delectable of groove and melody, the harmonies something you can hold in the palm of your hand as you drift through differing tones and audial environments with the lightest of breezes, content in the food which is being presented for the soul to feast on. Their discography might be short, but its endlessly sweet, so be sure to check out all of their singles when you get an opportunity!
And now we turn our attentions to the subject of today's review, the Superstars' only LP effort, 'Sayin' It', which was released in 1990 on the Rare Grooves imprint. The record solidifies much of the previous vinyl releases made by the group, with a number of new compositions written for the record which help to flesh out the group's bountiful sound, with plenty of serve between so much of the things we have talked about previously. The expertly executed musicianship is on full display at all times, with gorgeous vocal work interwoven with intricate melodic sequences that rise and fall with the most careful of breezes. We move from boogie infused soul ballads through to more up tempo numbers, with the music found within capable of soundtracking any kind of physical and emotional space you can imagine. Its a record that represents the best of the 1980s, and points in the direction of the future of soul, boogie, funk and everything inbetween, and for us the album is one of the most complete experiences you will ever have the pleasure of getting into. And so, with that sentiment, lets dive right into this sublime piece of music.....
Up first comes 'I Just Can't Say It', and this one begins with the vocal sample to get us going. A women and a man have a typical conversation about how the day went, before the man says 'I've got something for you to listen to', and like that the drums swing right into view and before long everything else falls right into place. The guitar sweep ignites the key progression into life, along with the electronic harmonica adding a sense of majesty into the mix, but its when the vocal line emerges that we get that first wash of mastery, with the deep swelling strings adding scope and meaning to proceedings. The movement into the first verse sees the vocal line doing all manner of magnificent things, moving from softly spoken words right through big and bountiful series of expressions, as the instrumentals underneath evolve then evolve some more as time passes by, with the bass line propping up a delicate blend of sounds. The movements into the choruses are so subtle, pulled off with an expertise that will become commonplace on this record, with the instrumentals taking all the time they need after the second verse to rise higher and some. When the vocals say 'How much I need you baby', you feel it with every inch of your being, as you do with the rest of the narrative being played out to us - its hopeful, full of love and adoration, and this resonates deep within us as the music flows by, gracefully presented to us with all the meaning in the world. This one is utterly transfixing, what. an. opener. 'Say Yeah' comes on next, and this one starts off with the spacious drumming to get us going. The jazz guitar slides across the top end, abounding from left to right with a gorgeous sense of presence, its tone and placement helping to set the stage for the rest of the instrumentals to fall into place, as the keys float down from up high to sing alongside it. The vocals arrive soon after to continue presenting further feels to us, the ba ba ba ohh ooh line particularly effective in continuing the mood, with this line leading us right into the first verse, where the vocals remain as dynamic and bountiful as ever. The track continues to evolve from there, with the string sections rising higher and higher as the guitar continues to weave its story across the mid section, filling in the left and right sides of the pan with such feel and meaning, the instrumentals simply unstoppable. A breakdown of sorts occurs around the 3:30 mark, leading into an overflowing of keys that invites us deeper into the mix, a loving saunter through the meanings of life itself. Incredible stuff. Up next comes 'A Little Bit Selfish', and this one starts off with the drums and rising strings to get us going. The drums are suitably spacious, and as the guitar swings into view we move right into the main choral hook, the words are immediately engrossing and convey to us the meaning behind this track so very effectively. The movement into the first verse is swift, with the vocal line intricate and ever evolving, with the beautiful double time delivery very pleasing to the ears indeed, as the underbelly of the track keeps the groove going very effectively indeed. The spaces between the drums are filled with such wonderful instrumentalism, from the ever intricate guitar through to the bountiful keys and bass, it all just works so very well indeed, particularly the movements into the choruses, it al just tugs at the heartstrings. Beautiful stuff.
'Nice Guy' comes next, and this one starts off in a very different space indeed. The drums are particularly late 80s in their delivery, with the vocal samples that kick things off helping to set the tone of the track very well, with the melodic outlay that flows into view over the next few bars a wonderful blend of old school soul with 90s electronic sensibilities. The overall feel of the track is very playful, the words telling us that the person in question has a good soul and a friendly vibe, with the groove inviting us to get up and dance our asses off. The piano and guitar work over time to help propel the tune onwards, with numerous synth lines arriving at just the right moments to keep the momentum feeling fresh and relevant. After all that soulful excellence, its a nice contrast to listen to a track thats built for the fun times, and it is still pulled off with the brilliant level of artistry we have become used to on this record. Superb! Up next comes 'Give Me All Your Love', and this one starts off in the most beautiful of spaces indeed. The drums lead us into the most expansive setting us, with the undercurrent of bass notes underpinning a beautiful upward moving chordal progression, as light guitar work flickers through the midst of tones, but its the vocals that slide into view that bind it all together, their softly spoken feel keeps the core of the track strong as hell. The backing harmonies do much to add further flavour into the mix, with the words being spoken hitting us right in the depths of the soul, the laying bare of an adoration for another that is hard to not completely fall for. This track shows the groups natural affinity in developing differing styles, with the previous tracks vibes captured here but transposed into a totally different setting, and it works so very well indeed. The rising line of 'Your Love, Your Love, Your Love' just hits you in the right spot, its utterly beautiful to the ears, the mind and the body. Gorgeous. 'Do You Love Me' comes on next, and this one starts with the calming melodic outlines to get us going. The drums soon herald in the next phase of the plan, with the vocal line of 'Do you really love me' setting the tone perfectly for all that is going to flow next, with the first verse coming in hot soon after. The drums are tonally excellent, the melodic elements working over time to fill the gaps, with the build up leading into the chorus, that for us is the most intriguing and beautifully considered instrumental section of the record so far. The sweeps of twinkling keys and deep rave like stabs work so well underneath the excellent vocal work up above, creating a strong as hell contrast between the less dense verse segments, with the track continuing to evolve with further explosions of guitar being thrown into the mix as we enter the instrumental break. The track is so brilliantly bombastic, with all manner of feels flowing so intuitively into one another as time passes by, our mind and bodies very much in it for the long run. This track has staying power, just wow!
'Come To Me' arrives next, and this one moves the tempo down a few notches. The bass line features prominently amongst the slow but impeccably groovy drumming pattern, and as the seconds pass by the vocals and guitar thrown themselves into the mix, the keys dazzling in the backdrop with such artistry. The vocals then lead into the first verse, the deep tone something to behold, as the delicate nature of the backing instrumentals keeps our intrigues running very high indeed, with the overall composition moving along with the most beautiful of saunters. The chorus leads into a sublime vocal outline, with the backing line of 'it could be so heavenly' taking us to very special places indeed, as the transition back into the verse is pulled off with such class. Its a meandering journey through all manner of wondrous tones and feels, our eyes darting around to get acquainted with all aspects of the composition, forever moving through its fluid momentum, never for one moment stepping off or moving away, simply riding along within its succulent current. Beautiful stuff. 'Slow Down' arrives next, and this one takes the tempo up a little bit. The pounding bass line moves right through the middle, with the high octane synths adding flavour to the top ends as the rhythm keeps us atop a wave of energy, and as the vocal line emerges we are fully on board for all that is going to flow our way. The track saunters along with an unstoppable sense of momentum, keeping us locked firmly into the varying changes in layer arrangement that move in and out of view, the vocal work helping to guide the track with its powerful evoking delivery. Top Stuff! Up next comes 'I Don't Believe It's True', and the tempo drops down a little bit here back into ballad territories. The drums provide all the room in the world for the keys to grow within, as the guitar takes all the time it needs to weave a very compelling narrative, but its the joint lead vocal lines that keep our minds very much in it with this one. The male and female parts speak to each other between the chorus arrangements, exchanging messages that help to build a very powerful narrative indeed, the words spoken talking about proving love and trust, something which we all experience at some time in our lives. The instrumentals started off as more passive but grow and grow some more to really amplify the words being spoken, their presence going up in terms of volume and density, all of which helps to prop up the words being spoken to a massive degree. Wonderful stuff. To wrap things up, we have 'Beautiful Things', and this one starts off with the rising strings and light guitar work to get us going. Its a beautiful opening segment, the guitar crafting a wonderful textured line across the bountiful strings, with the vocals arriving to add further feel into the mix, and as the drums lead into the next phase we see further vocal expressions occur, not spoken through words but through expressionism, and it work so very well as a melodic tool. Its a final statement of a record that has an awful lot to say, a record filled to the brim with excellence in technicality, musicianship and melody, all bound together by a creative vision that touches us deep inside with its meaning and groove. A truly spectacular piece of music.
The 80s bought along many tropes that remain permanent fixtures in anything groovy, dancy and full of soul in the contemporary scene, and with records like this one we find an awful lot of those tropes amplified and maximised for the benefit of all. The Superstars might have only released a small handful of records, but their sound was undeniably unique and expertly pulled off, a rare blend of inventive musicality mixed with the plethora of styles that abounded from the decade, and the results really do speak for themselves. The tunes move from beautiful soulful ballads through to pumpin' proto boogie numbers, all of which are delivered with such expertise and knowledge of how music hits the soul, with the guitar work, keys and the vocals in particular delivering on all fronts to provide us with a totality in experience. We are immersed in a world where love and feelings surface from every corner, the narratives displayed to us mirroring our own experiences in the most compelling of ways, the harmonies reflecting our own emotions as we move through the gears to reach a place of soulful nirvana. This one is a real triumph, and a record that we feel everyone should listen to, trust us when we say you won't regret it one bit. A superb piece of music.
Check out the record here: