On one of the finest Deep house records to emerge from the early 90s, producer Tony Varnado showcases his keyboard skills in providing a deeply enriching experience that will make your soul soar and your heart feel fulfilled.
They say House is a feeling, something which remains very much inside rather than a notion that feels tangible, and whilst there are plenty of records which bare the name and have the stylings, there are some records which remain a cut above in the essence department. Deep House as the name suggests took the genre into a new space, one where unravelling melodic sequences were the key to guiding the momentum of tracks, rather than a focus on vocal lines and bold dynamic drumming lines, and this served as a new method in elevating the dancefloor to new heights of understanding. The vibe was inherently emotional, one where melody became the backbone of the experience, as the room in which dancers found themselves was illuminated by colour and feeling, with wave upon wave of groove and tone intermingling with the smiles and the tears as the sun rise dawned. This style, which originated during the mid 80s but really came into its own during the transition into the 90s, would perhaps become one of House's most popular and significant sub genres, as it show cased a new way of creating ethereal experiences through a 4 on the floor and heaps upon heaps of keyboard prowess. The range and feel of the music being presented started to grow outwards, with plenty of space set aside for free flowing arrangements to come into the fold as keyboard solos and extended instrumentation pieces became the standard, as many producers looked into the concept of removing the vocals in favour of providing a melodically led narrative. This emphasis helped to provide a new focus that allowed dancers and music lovers the space in which to pick up on all the little elements and features which came their way, from the gorgeous cascading of key sequences through to the large scale beat structures, it was a sound that continually invited you in and presented an essence that was hard to deny in all its forms. As a new interpretation of the original House sound, it was very easy to fall in love with, and across the globe thousands would flock to heed its call, as the vibe was exported across the waters and taken into differing scenes and spaces with a ravenous appetite. Instrumentation became the word of the day, as producers with gold dust on their fingers applied the most impeccable of touches to worlds that felt unlimited in their potential, where repeat listens would open up doors into the back waters of the mind and provide continual enjoyment for all that happened to come across it. Much of the music from this period hasn't aged one bit, such was the timeless vibe captured within these records in that the focus remained very much on the melody and its relationship with the drums, and as such its feel remains just as important today as it did when it came out. Out of this period came a number of producers who embodied this sound, their craft shining forth as a beacon of possibility that felt pretty much endless, its potential never faltering and its emotional gains seemingly never failing to impress, and its these threads that really give us the most life. Be it the drums, the keys, or the audial narrative that plays out, we really feel involved, in tune and completely immersed, and at the end of the day that is what great Deep House is all about.
One such producer who really made an impression during the early to mid 90s was producer and DJ Tony Varnado, who in many ways embodied much of the changes that occurred within House during that period. Varnado displayed a wonderful sense of dexterity within his work, with a deep understanding of how keys and drums worked alongside one another in order to push the emotional momentum onwards and upwards, and as a result his sound remained highly dynamic. Combining the richness of the Chicago sound with the emerging notions of genres like Italo House, Varnado's dynamic blends worked a charm on audiences, with inherent notions of playfulness and groove merging with a beautiful top layer of melodies that gave the experience a fullness that remains so strong to this day. The rhythms that Varnado conjured up were simply magical, with multiple layers moving within a strong as hell structure that just shake you to the core, the kicks in particular doing much to drive us further and further towards nirvana, as waves upon waves of emotional and ecstasy wash through the mind, body and soul. Not only was Varnado able to showcase an inherent ability to come up with impeccable groove, but in true 90s House fashion he was able to showcase a real talent in key solos, which always arrived in slightly differing ways within tracks, either as a winding sequence that lasted the whole experience or something which would arrive at the right place and the right time, and its these kinds of moments that we continue to live for right up until this present day. Melodically its harder to think of anyone who did it better than Varnado, with every record he released showcasing a vision and ability to layer key lines upon one another, and its an ability that mesmerises even to this day. It felt like everything he presented was presented with a real sense of purpose, with every record slotting into his sonic universe hand in glove as if he foresaw how things would ebb and flow in time, and as a result his discography is incredibly strong. Looking back through his works, we could undoubtably highlight all of them, with our favourites including
the beauty and the depth that flows from the excellent 'The Movement/Strings' release, which arrived in 1990 and the bouncy goodness that exudes from the 'Don't You Want Me/Wanna Be My Girl', which landed in 1993, with both these records landing under the Raw Power alias on the iconic Strictly Rhythm imprint. As the Toy Factory, one release to check out is the inherently playful and joyous 'Volume One' record, which arrived in 1992. Under his own name, highlights include the incredible, euphoria inducing 'The Hard Hit EP', which landed in 1994; the deep, deep, deeeep grooves found on the 'Hit-Hard Tracks Volume 2' EP, which arrived in 95'; and the Rhodes led excellence that emerges from the 'Hard & Deep DJ Trax' record, which also landed in 95'. Finally, be sure to check out the excellent swings and flows that are found within the 'Hi-Frequency' record, which arrived in 2001 under the Mood Men name, a group Varnado was a part of alongside fellow House extraordinaire Wayne Gardiner. In all, Varnado crafted a narrative for himself within the realms of House during the 90s that remains to this day incredibly thought provoking, engaging and deeply groovy, with a lot of praise placed upon his abilities to navigate the many facets of the genre and come up with a wide variety of interpretations but still stay true to his original visions. There's moments that will make you dance until the night becomes day, there are tunes that perhaps will bring tears to your eyes, such is the euphoric and emotional feels on display, and that's the beauty of his music, bold and groovy yet tender and really delicate all at the same time. Its hard to deny his brilliance, so why not go check out his previous works - its a must for any Deep House head.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, the sole release under the Mello House name, 'The Flower' which came out in 1991. Appearing in the clutch of Varnado's initial releases, 'The Flower' is split into two parts, with Side A featuring two versions of the title track, whilst side B features two versions of 'Organ Ride', and this arrangement kind of gives you an idea of the way in which Varnado would compose his later releases. You have a blend of the emotionally charged head-in-the-clouds kind of vibes transposed with big and beefy rhythmic excellence, both of which leave us breathless in our escapisms, be it somewhere on the smoke fuelled dancefloor or in our quiet spaces, contemplating and reflecting on life itself. Varnado goes all out on this record with the key work, and we see his full range and abilities on show from start to finish, with each track featuring a solo of some kind, and its simply astonishing. He makes Deep House feel like an artform on this record, with a dynamic swing coming across on each cut that embraces you like no other, and just keeps you locked into a hypnotic groove that could last a lifetime and never get old. So, on that note, lets dive into this little slice of heaven....
Up first comes the 'Blossom Mix' of the title track, and this one begins with the kicks to get us going. The drums help set the stage for the keys to come into view, and the melodic outline begins with the lead key sequence that gets the snares involved to help bring things down into the first breakdown, which is where we see the expanses come into the picture, with gorgeous background pads lighting up the room as all manner of other elements fill up the view. The kicks come back into view, as one lead key line becomes two, with their winding feeling occupying both sides of the pan with a beautiful cascading notion, as pads continue to make up the bulk of the middle ground, as we move from one stage of delight to the next. The track then allows the lead key line time to shine as the pads move away to give this sequence all the space in the world, but before long everything comes back full circle to provide the fullest of pictures, with another dip down into the expanse provided to allow us to collect our thoughts. The lead up to the second climax is more drawn out this time, with the drums taking longer to build, and this provides the perfect platform for the keys to continue layering up and up, as we reach a special place within ourselves where only certain things are spoken and conveyed, and its just truly magical. A beautiful, beautiful piece of music. Up next comes the 'Mature' mix of the title track, and this one begins with the deep set kicks and wistful sonic textures up top to get us going. The shakers riding along on the left of the pan add a delicate feeling to the mix, as heavy set snares and kicks slam right through the body in an incredibly physical way, with the spaces left providing all the time in the world for melodic elements to come sliding into view, and this occurs when the bass line arrives. Moving from the lows to the highs with a real sense of intent, the bass then encourages all the other features to get involved, with gorgeous key lines moving in and out of time as the lead piano riff gets into the groove beautifully, as we continue to slide from left to right, easing through the night with the most appropriate of soundtracks. Heartfelt to the max, very special this one.
Up next comes 'Organ Ride (Smooth Ride)', and this one begins with the drums and bass to get us going. The feel is sultry yet purposeful, with the shakers adding depth and texture to the blend, and before long we are joined by the key solo during the breakdown, which helps to set the stage for the excellence to come, which makes its presence known as the kicks come back into view, with this turn of phase encouraging the chord line to come into view, and its gorgeous. The track then meanders on, the chords doing their thing as the key solo continues to ride higher and higher as time passes by, as the track takes dips through melodic lite segments before slamming right back into it with the keys showcasing their fullness, with continued flickers coming to the forefront with grace and presence, as we find ourselves in the middle of it all, eyes closed, taking it all in, never for one moment feeling lost or not secure, simply riding along a crest of sheer beauty. This one takes Deep House to new heights, that's for sure. To wrap things up, we have the 'Rough Ride' version of the previous track, and this one begins with the kicks and key flickers to get us going. The drums are suitably garage house, with a swing that just won't quit, and its this percussive sequence that provides a perfect foundation for the most emphatic of key solos to slide across the plains, and on a record defined by its wonderful key solos this one just feels so very special, with occasional flashes of vocal samples provides to keep it company, and this just draws all our focus to the keys and their journey. The notes meander from the wonderfully loose through to the rhythmically secure, never for one moment losing sight of their final destination, but in our opinion they can take as long as they like in getting to point B, as we see Varnado do his thing for a full 5 minutes straight, and its fucking amazing. A fitting end to a incredible record, one that stands tall for its musical and melodic qualities, and one that we simply cannot get enough of.
House is indeed a feeling, and producers since its inception have long looked to capture and harness that feeling, its essence if you will, and bottle it and press that excellence onto wax, and if you look back through time some producers were able to achieve this process very naturally indeed. Tony Varnado was one of those producers who seemed to really channel into the notions of the genre, and his music simply speaks for itself on that regard, with a stunning collection of records that still resonate so much now as they ever did. 'The Flower' represents Varnado at his very best, with an array of ever so differing rhythmic structures providing the basis for some of the finest keyboard work you will ever hear within a House record, with these sequences layered to perfection to provide both a solid work out and a beautiful emotional ride that quite simply could last three lifetimes over. It's dance music for the soul as much as it is for the body, and in the end that is what great Deep House is all about, and here Varnado captured that energy and bottled it up into a record for the ages. Superb, superb, superb.
You can check out the record here: