The uninitiated often think of disco as a genre of songs and not a genre of albums. However, the connoisseur knows that the disco’s truly skilled producers – Giorgio Moroder and the Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards team, to name just a few – could maintain a varied blend of groove and melody at album length and create an experience that was compelling from the first beat to the last.
Gregg Diamond was a member of that exclusive club, announcing his talents as an LP-length disco auteur on the classic Andrea True Connection debut album, a lush but driving opus that spawned the crossover pop hit “More, More, More.” However, his skills would find their fullest expression with a studio project he dubbed Bionic Boogie.
Hot Butterfly was the second Bionic Boogie album and offered six songs that are all worthy of discotheque spins. The title track is the obvious classic and kicks the album off in high style: a jazzy piano and bass groove holds down the beat as swirling strings and harp create a heart-tugging backdrop for a stellar vocal from a pre-solo stardom Luther Vandross. He sings of lost love with the grace of a Hollywood idol, creating a swoon-inducing romantic mood that is supported nicely by expert backing vocals that emphasize his phrasing at key moments and add lovely counter-harmonies when added ear-candy is necessary.
However, there’s much more to this cult-fave album than just the title track. Each of the remaining songs pursues a slightly tougher sound, mixing the elegance and jazzy flair of the title track with grittier rhythms and the attitude of a New Yorker. “Chains” is a killer disco jam, with the vocalists creating a polyrhythmic blend of group-vocal hooks over a track that boasts a surprising fuzz guitar hook and staccato horns that form a call-and-response pattern with the soulful vocals. “Fess Up To The Boogie” is another funky entry that offsets the “Arabian Nights gone funk” scenario of its lyrics with a pounding arrangement where the rhythm section, piano and group vocals work together to create a relentlessly percussive feel.
Elsewhere, Diamond and company add further spice to the mix with a pair of electric piano-driven tracks that have radically different feels. The first is “When The Shit Hits The Fan,” which uses the electric piano to create a “New Orleans goes new wave” rhythm as the group vocals affect a nervous, staccato style to deliver lyrics that poke fun at the beat-driven hedonism of the disco scene. The other is “Cream (Always Rises To The Top),” which uses a constantly ascending electric-piano riff as the lynchpin of a smooth yet funky groove that creates dramatic tension with skittering strings and churning guitar riffs. It’s worth noting that the latter song has dazzlingly intricate vocal arrangements, as does second-side opener “Paradise.” However, the latter tune takes top vocal honors on the album thanks to an finale where layers of backing vocals dovetail to create a jazz-inflected complexity.
In short, Hot Butterfly is a great example of disco in album form; a real work of craftsmanship that is accessible enough to be instantly danceable but complex enough in its musicality to stand up to multiple listens. It has also finally gotten the CD it deserves thanks to an excellent new edition from Funky Town Grooves. The new disc boasts stellar mastering from disco legend Tom Moulton, who avoids “make it louder” mindset of modern remastering to create a warm, natural soundscape that maintains the analog integrity of the original record.
It’s also worth noting that this new edition boasts a quartet of vintage remixes by Diamond and deejay Jim Burgess that bring out fresh angles on a trio of the album’s tracks. Diamond’s arrangements on the album versions are dense with layers of frills so he and Burgess had plenty of material to work with. The resulting remixes retain the album’s musical vigor while highlighting riffs and hooks that got buried in the richness of the album’s sound. For instance, Diamond’s reworking of “Fess Up The Boogie” strips down the arrangement to give it a more propulsive feel that highlights some nagging rhythm-guitar hooks while Burgess’s take on “Hot Butterfly” weaves in an extended break to highlight the jazzy intricacy of the backing vocals.
The combination of gorgeous sound and the value enhancement of the remixes makes Funky Town Grooves’ edition of Hot Butterfly a must for disco students. Veterans will value the classy treatment it gives to a vintage gem and newbies will get a grand introduction to the dance-floor genius of Gregg Diamond.