The disco genre is a collector’s delight because it is impossible to overstate just how much of it was produced during the genre’s heyday. Plenty of these albums slipped through the cracks, a process hastened by the genre’s quickened commercial demise, and this ensures that disco hold a vast array of forgotten gems just begging to be rediscovered by collectors. Disco Recharge: Tangerue/Strange Affair pairs a couple of examples of this kind of deep-catalog classic – and the result is one-two punch that will send disco fans into a dream world of mirror balls and dancefloor elegance.
Both albums collected on this disc are prototypical examples of the “studio projects” that populate the disco world: in other words, one-off creations devised by producers and session musicians in hopes of nabbing a disco hit rather than the work of single artists or existing musical groups. In this case, the albums showcase the talents of Bruce Weedon, a guitarist, engineer and producer who worked of several disco albums, most notably with genre auteur Boris Midney. These two albums find him collaborating with other musicians to create a pair of densely-layered, dynamic disco epics.
Tangerue is the first up and it pairs Weeden with Ed Strauman, a keyboardist and songwriter who penned all the songs on this album with his wife, Mary Cavallaro. The music created by these collaborators offers an interesting mix of styles. The melodies have a sweet, old-fashioned quality that recalls pre-rock pop music, right down to the unison, close-harmony vocals by the female vocalists. This approach really shines on “Dance With Me” and “Tangerue,” giving them a nostalgic vibe on a par with other retro-minded disco projects like Tuxedo Junction and Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.
However, the instrumentation that fleshes out these melodies has a driving quality, with a steady, omnipresent dance-floor beat as well as some Latin touches in the percussion and guitar work. Strauman did the arrangements and they are both expansive and restlessly inventive, often applying a multi-section, symphonic approach. That element is best displayed on “Everyday, Everynight,” a nearly ten-minute epic that underscores its melodramatic narrative with a little bit of everything: swooping strings, soaring horns, burbling synths and even fast-strummed Spanish guitars. The other tracks pile on the instrumental hooks and textures with abandon, showing off a high level of musicianship throughout.
That said, the best of the album’s four cuts might be “Doin’ Your Own Thing,” which effectively blends the albums sweet melodic elements and the driving, complex arrangements into one multi-textured whole. The beguiling, gently-harmonized chorus it features is the best on the album but it also boasts an action-packed instrumental break where the strings and horns alternate between dueling and dovetailing with each other.
The other album is Strange Affair and, while it offers the same high production values, it comes from a different mood and style altogether. Weeden worked with Giuliano Salerni, the writer/producer behind the cult favorite Ultimate project, and the results have a funkier, more urbane feel to them. The horn and string arrangements are typically lush but the rhythms have more of a boogie feel, with thumb-popping bass lines that push everything along at a speedy tempo. The vocals amplify that urbane quality by taking a more percussive, high energy approach. Salerni also served as keyboardist and piles on keyboard textures of all varieties here, including some wild, whooping analog synth lines.
Better yet, the songs all provide sturdy vehicles for Weeden and Salerni’s lush approach. “Bad Connection” is an amusing tale of a young woman trying to transform a wrong-number call into an erotic rendezvous and it’s a microcosm for the album itself from a musical standpoint: the song has a quasi-symphonic approach that offsets the soaring chorus with funky verse melodies and a strings-plus-keyboard break that sounds like a suspenseful film score cue and a wild, unexpected pomp-rock synth solo near the end of the song. There’s a playful, slightly camp vibe to the arrangement and vocals and it suits the colorful material well.
The remainder of the songs fall into two categories. “No No No” and the “I’m Ready/Disco Star” medley are straight-up disco barnstormers: the first features a stomper of a chorus where the strings and horns match the singers’ words on the titular hook while the second pushes its sweet vocal melodies along with a battalion of keyboard hooks and relentlessly thumping bass and clavinet lines. “Love Is A Strange Affair” and “Don’t Stop The Music” maintain the tempo but go for a dreamier approach, complete with starry-eyed lyrics: the throbbing rhythms on each are overlaid with yearning strings and more romantic vocal melodies. That said, the rhythms are driving on either style of cut and guaranteed to keep the listener grooving from start to finish.
Having both of these albums on a single disc is a great value by itself but the Disco Recharge program adds extra value in how they handle them. Not only are the albums handsomely remastered, they each add a bonus cut: the “Tangerue Medley” is a brisk, deftly edited sonic travelogue through material from each of that album’s cuts and a 12-inch mix of “Bad Connection” that adds an extra thirty seconds to that densely-arranged gem. The package is topped off with an informative set of liner notes from Alan Jones, author of Saturday Night Forever and the regular liners-notes scribe for the Disco Discharge series, that lays out the intriguing history behind these albums. Mr. Pink, the man behind the Disco Discharge series, curated this set and he deserves a round of applause from the mirrorball set for his smart, devoted work.
In short, Disco Recharge: Tangerue/Strange Affair shows just how good disco studio projects can be. Pop music purists tend to sneer at such albums as “artificial” but that kind of snobbery overlooks the fact that the producers and the sessions musicians were the artists on albums like these – and pulling off full-blooded disco epics like these albums required as much talent as any recognized artist or group has.