On one of our favourite reissues of the year, Freestyle records turn their attention to a long lusted after dance relic from La Famille that fuels the heart and soul with its infectious enthusiasm and feel good euphoria.
We have spoken at length about the excellence which exuded from the United Kingdom during the 1980s, a feverish blend of genres such as Post-Punk, New Wave and Brit Funk leading the nation's clubs and radios into a new era where so much possibility was about to become reality. The last of those aforementioned genres, Brit-Funk, was perhaps (for us anyway) the one genre that had the most significant voice in the room, its boundaries unparalleled and its appeal only growing in nature as more groups flocked towards it and made some of the most meaningful grooves found anywhere during the decade. La Famille were a group who were certainly found within the genre's rich tapestry, and despite only releasing four records they left a mark that to this day rings true and hits all the right marks. La Famille was created by London based guitarist Alan Weekes, a sought after arranger and guitar player who played on a number of significant Lovers Rock and Soul records during the 80s through into the 90s. His diverse career saw him work extensively with the iconic Carroll Thompson, notably contributing to one of our favourite lovers rock records, the self titled Thompson album from 1982, whilst also arranging one of our favourite boogie-gospel records, 'The Way U Make Me Feel' by Clarity, which came out in 1985. These are just a couple of highlights in a excellent career, that also saw him work with the likes of Tito Simon, Jah Bunny, Junior English, Barrington Levy and many, many more, such were the appreciation of his skills. When learning abut Weekes' array of work you understand the man's abilities and his eye for detail that make many of the records he worked on stand out for their depth and musical inventiveness, and so when approaching the La Famille discography we are met with a wide variety of genres that in many ways reflect Weekes' ability to blend into a number of styles and feels that were so prevalent at the time in Britain.
The first release to delve into was the joint 1983 release with Legato, 'All Night Long/Shame', which gives a good indication of what was to come from the group. A cover of the Mary Jane Girls classic, the La Famille version contains a deep reggae/lovers rock undercurrent with soaring vocal work and an infectious energy that runs straight to the core of proceedings. The track would later be released in the same year as a standalone single. La Famille would then head to the shortlived but highly revered Bpop Records, where their 1984 record 'Lost in Paradise' would come to light. A track that borrowed much from Street Soul and the sparser end of 80s boogie, the track is a triumph, with gorgeous glassy chords setting the tone through the middle as heavenly harmonies and guitar work permeate through the spaces to create one hell of an environment to dive into and soak up. Reflecting back on the Famille discography, the musicianship is up there with the very best, indicating a strong hand that guided it all and a immeasurable level of talent that serves to give us only the best of danceable experiences. Not only that, but through only four releases we are served up a spectrum of moods and genres that speak of a certain moment in time in the British musical conciousness, one where groove was being taken to amazing places and the integration of Lovers Rock into really upbeat territories had begun in earnest. Not to say it sounds of its time at all - it still sounds wondrous to this day, such is the quality of the playing and the sheer joy found in every stanza and segment. If you want a smile on your face all day, why not put on 'All Night Long' or 'Lost in Paradise' - it will help you feel all kinds of positive ways.
And now we turn our attention to the subject of today's review, the recent reissue of 'Dancer', which comes out via Freestyle Records, and oh boy is this a gem and a half. Originally self released back in 1982, 'Dancer' has achieved holy grail status for boogie fans, with the original pressing unbelievably rare and commanding very high prices indeed. But when you listen to the music, you can really see why this record was so in demand. The most disco leaning record the group would release, 'Dancer' is to put it simply, joyous, with incredible instrumentation taking centre stage underneath the wonderful vocal talent that is Caron Wheeler (of future Soul II Soul fame), along with the group also including Cleveland Watkiss. The single also features a beautiful instrumental version that sees some minor differences make the experience total and complete, and it is safe to say we see this one being up very high on the reissue end of year lists. So, without further delay, lets dive into this masterful blend of groove, melody and feeling, as we embrace the dancefloor and let euphoria take over....
The vocal version comes first, which begins with plenty of energy in the form of the line 'let your body move' atop plenty of foundational groove elements. This opening salvo makes way for a rhythm section to die for, the spacious drums providing plenty of room for the bass line to smash away, with immeasurable energy feeling its way out through the left and right. Wheeler then makes her presence known as the first verse begins, which sees the melodic elements strip back to provide her voice with a stage, but what happens next is wonderful. The track then builds up to a crescendo, with keys, guitar and bass building up to a faux peak of sorts, creating a sense of anticipation in the crowd and the listener, before de-pressurising for a moment. This happens one more time before the chorus comes into view, and this is when the joy really hits new heights, with that glorious little key line that permeates through the clouds lighting up the fires in our hearts, and we remain very much in heaven. The shift back into the verse sees an equally good feeling continue to lift us up, with the line 'you're a dancer/dance for me' hitting home as we shift pass the second chorus and into the mid way segment of the record. This sees plenty of interplay between the vocals and the two bass lines, which shifts in density half way through to include a greater emphasis on the backing vocals, before they drop out to place focus on the keys and jazz guitar. The chorus then comes back round before shifting yet again into the previous verse, and the movement gives this track the triumphant send off it deserves. So much set up, so much energy, so much INCREDIBLE feelings, its a truly supreme piece of boogie, verging on the right amount of rhythm to pair itself with the momentum it exudes. This track, wowza.
On the flip comes the instrumental, and as a mirror to the original there's plenty to pick up on here and celebrate. The tune begins in similar fashion to the original, with the bass given a shit load of kick, and like that we arrive into the swing of things, with the undercurrent given plenty of room to breathe, and as we arrive into the verse the only vocal sample left is the short and sweet 'Free!', before the shift into the sparkling mid section break that sees the cascading keys doing their thing. A brief vocal interlude then sees the shift into the chorus, and you can feel the words in your head as you slide along, dancing around like a maniac. The smooth transition back into the verse remains, as the track effortlessly glides through the chorus and into the third segment, which really packs a punch. The chordal lines here are something else, giving over so much to the spirit as we float high up above, as the main vocal hook drifts in and out of existence, giving affirmations to our positive vibrations and moods. And like that, the experience is over, but the music lingers long in the memory, constantly calling out to us through the ethereal glaze, whispering our name as if it longs for us to get up one more time and dance all over again. Groove of the utmost excellence, this one.
Sometimes you really do feel blessed to be able to experience something over and over again, and with this reissue you feel like you hold sunshine in the palms of your hands. Alan Weekes really hit the nail on the head with this project, with every release speaking to something a little bit different in terms of the incredible audial universe that was beginning to develop in the UK around that time, but with 'Dancer' this is something extra special going on. The melodies, the intricate instrumentation, the glorious vocals, this track contains everything, even going above and beyond in creating a feverish level of anticipation for listeners to wrap their ears around. As a floor burner it does everything right, but to simply listen to it on headphones in your living room is a incredibly rewarding experience, such is the talent and thought that went into every single stanza on this tune. One for the ages, and a record that will continue to light up floors all across the globe. Stunning stuff.
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