When fans of vin­tage dance music hear the name Evelyn Thomas, the first thing they usu­al­ly think is “Hi-NRG.”  That fast-paced elec­tron­ic dance music move­ment got its anthem from Thomas via the song “High Energy,” which was pro­duced by her long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor and English dance music impres­sar­io Ian Levine.  However, the Thomas/Levine part­ner­ship dates all the way back to the ‘70s, when the duo was record­ing full-blown orches­trat­ed dis­co.

Those inter­est­ed in this era of their work can check out Thomas’ first two albums on one con­ve­nient CD via the Disco Recharge reis­sue series from Harmless Records.  As this review will reveal, Thomas has a lot more to offer the dance music fan than just pro­to-tech­no sounds.

I Wanna Make It On My Own:

Thomas’ debut album was released in 1978 by Casablanca Records.  Levine pro­duced and wrote or co-wrote every­thing on it, show­ing a can­ny knack for dis­co in its most cin­e­mas­cope pro­por­tions.

The major­i­ty of the run­ning time is devot­ed to three floor-fill­ing grooves that fol­low a con­sis­tent for­mu­la: the title track, “It’s The Magic Of Your Touch” and “Look No Further.”  All three hit the ground run­ning, with aggres­sive horn and string arrange­ments lay­ered over a punchy, insis­tent groove from the rhythm sec­tion.  Backing vocal­ists anchor the cho­rus, allow­ing Thomas to vamp and impro­vise around the melody.  She real­ly goes to town with her adlibs, mov­ing from a breathy croon to pierc­ing high notes.  They also have beat-heavy instru­men­tal breaks, some­times accom­pa­nied by a rap from Thomas: “Look No Further” is the best in this area, fea­tur­ing a fun­ny bit where Thomas trades amorous ban­ter with a male vocal­ist while the string sec­tion goes crazy in the back­ground.

Variation is pro­vid­ed by the remain­ing tracks: “Thanks For Being There” is a lan­guid bal­lad with a Philly Soul ele­gance to its sound and “Back To Reality” pares down the big-pro­duc­tion attack of the oth­er dance tracks into under three min­utes for a brief uptem­po finale.  The over­all effect of the album is much like what Jacques Morali was doing with the Ritchie Family around the same time and it should have the same camp appeal for those who enjoy that sound.

Have A Little Faith In Me:

D.J./produc­er Rick Gianatos was a big fan of I Wanna Make It On My Own and teamed up with Levine to work on this fol­lowup.  Have A Little Faith In Me was released on the AVI Records label and takes the sound estab­lished on the pre­vi­ous record to the next lev­el.

The first side is a killer: the title track and “No Time To Turn Around” are dance­floor epics that show a real styl­is­tic evo­lu­tion for Thomas and com­pa­ny.  The songs have more hooks, the lead and back­ing vocals trade off in an ornate style and the arrange­ments show a new lev­el of com­plex­i­ty.  “No Time To Turn Around” is par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive in its arrange­ment, which has sec­tions where var­i­ous groups of instru­ments trade off on inter­lock­ing stac­ca­to motifs to hyp­notic effect.  Thomas’ vocals live up to this com­plex sound, sound­ing ele­gant and relaxed as they flut­ter over the songs’ con­tours.

The sec­ond side con­sists of two ear­ly sin­gles that were exten­sive­ly reworked by Gianatos, who not only remixed them but also added new per­cus­sion tracks.  “My Head’s In The Stars” has a cer­tain sup­per club jazz ele­gance to it, with a typ­i­cal­ly rich arrange­ment from Levine’s reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor Fiachra Trench.  “Love’s Not Just An Illusion” ups the tem­po and ends things on a suit­ably over-the-top note, boast­ing a real­ly grand break­down where dra­mat­ic strings and horns are built up over heavy beats.  Thomas’ vocals are as silky as the arrange­ments.

Bonus Material:

Two albums on one disc is pret­ty good val­ue but Disco Recharge fur­ther sweet­ens the set with a trio of pre­vi­ous­ly unre­leased songs done an unre­leased third album along the lines of the two con­tained on this set.  “Summer On The Beach” takes a bal­lad-style vocal melody and gives it an uptem­po treat­ment, with an expres­sive vocal from Thomas that lives up to the Cinemascope arrange­ment. “Love In The First Degree” show­cas­es oft-jazzy vocals from Thomas over an extreme­ly rhyth­mic arrange­ment anchored by a Moroder-style use of clavinet (it has a Bad Girls-type sound in places).  However, the big win­ner of the bonus tracks is the most exper­i­men­tal: “Sleaze” is an instru­men­tal odyssey that uses Thomas’ vocals to add extra col­or to a roller­coast­er of an arrange­ment where per­cus­sive horns and swoop­ing strings are woven around a stomp­ing beat.

In short, the Disco Recharge edi­tion of I Wanna Make It On My Own and Have A Little Faith In Me is a nice revival for a deserv­ing pair of dis­co obscu­ri­ties.  They show anoth­er side to Thomas’ lega­cy and the results offer the kind of kitchen-sink dis­co dra­mat­ics that old-school dance music fans will appre­ci­ate.