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.
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.