LINDA LEWIS-A TEAR AND A SMILE.

LINDA LEWIS-A TEAR AND A SMILE.

Twelve years after the release of her debut album Say No More released on Reprise in 1971, Linda Lewis was preparing to record her eighth studio album A Tear and A Smile, which will be rereleased on 2nd April 2012 by BBR Records. This would be Linda’s first album for four years, since 1979s Hacienda View. In the intervening years, Linda’s marriage to Jim Cregan had broken-up, with this affecting her creativity. However, help was at hand in the shape of Robin Blanchflower, former president of Ariola, who’d now founded Kaleidoscope Records. Robin would give Linda the opportunity to work with a producer she’d previously worked with, Bert DeCoteaux. He’d previously produced three tracks on Linda’s most successful album, 1975s Not A Little Girl Anymore. Instantly, Linda agreed, deciding Bert DeCoteaux could be the man who’d kick start her career. So, after signing to Kaleidoscope Records, Linda would head prepare to record her eight album, which would become A Tear and A Smile.

Recording for A Tear and A Smile would take place in New York, with Bert DeCoteaux producing the album. Previously, Bert had worked with a variety of artists, arranging and producing, with his credits including Marlena Shaw, Dexter Gordon, Diana Ross and The Manhattans. His work had previously encompassed jazz, soul, funk and disco, Bert was not only hugely experienced, but perfectly suited to Linda’s unique fusion of folk, funk, soul, pop and soul. In total, ten tracks were chosen for the album, with Linda writing two tracks I Can’t Get Enough and Sweet Heartache, while co-writing two others, This Boy and Why Can’t I Be the Other Woman. Among the other tracks chose for the album, were a cover of Jackie Ross’ 1965 Chess Records single Take Me Just A Little While. Eventually, seven tracks were recorded and produced by Bert. However, before the release of an album Why Can’t I Be the Other Woman was released as a single, securing airplay in UK radio stations, but failing to chart. Then when Robin Blanchflower’s Kaleidoscope Records negotiated a deal with CBS Records, Kaleidoscope became part of Epic. Now Linda found herself with an unfinished album, which was another huge setback to her comeback.

CBS decided that Linda should return to London, where she’d finish recording the album, with new producers. So, CBS hired another CBS act to produce the remaining tracks. These were Colin Campsie and George McFarlane of The Quick Association. They’d produce three tracks, This Boy, (Close the Door) Take Your Heart and I Am What I Am. Now that the album was finished, what would be Linda’s first and only album for Epic, A Tear and A Smile would be released.

A Tear and A Smile was released in 1983, but although well received, sadly, failed to chart. Neither did (Close the Door) Take Your Heart nor This Boy, the second and third singles released from A Tear and A Smile. This wan’t just a blow to Linda’s comeback, given the quality of the music, but producers Bert DeCoteaux, The Quick and of course, Epic Records. However, although the album failed commercially, it was nothing to do with the music on  A Tear and A Smile, as I’ll now explain.

Opening A Tear and A Smile is Destination Love, and the first difference that I notice from Say No More is the change in style and the production style. The track has a much more uptempo, dance-floor friendly style, with Bert DeCoteaux giving the track his polished style. Written by Diane Warren, a funky rhythm section, keyboards and guitars combine, before Linda’s gentle, beautiful vocal enters. She’s accompanied by backing vocalists, with a prominent male vocalist playing in important part. Over nearly four minutes, Linda is transformed almost into a disco diva, while her band is tight, as they combine funk and disco. By the end of the track, Linda is almost unrecognisable from her debut album, with this one of the best tracks on the album.

Straight away, it’s noticeable that I Am What I Am has a slightly, heavier sound, with the arrangement still funky, but relying more on keyboards and synths. They’re accompanied by punchy, blazing horns and the rhythm section, while Linda’s vocal is stronger, although she doesn’t unleash her five octave vocal. Later, a funky slap bass enters, providing a contrast to the synth and keyboard heavy arrangement. The reason for the change in the sound of the arrangement is that this was one of the arrangement by The Quick Association. Although the sound and is different to Bert DeCoteaux’s, it’s still a good track with its eighties sound, while Linda’s vocal is powerful and impassioned.

Take Me For A Little While is another of the seven Bert DeCoteaux produced tracks, and is a slower track, where Linda gives one of her best, and most emotive vocals on A Tear and A Smile. She starts of with a tenderness and sadness in her vocal, while the arrangement is a combination of the rhythm section, keyboards and strings, before subtle backing vocalists enter. After a minute, Linda’s vocal starts to grow in power, as the emotion also rises. Still, the arrangement has an understated and pensive sound, made all the better by the addition of the tender backing vocalists. They combine beautifully with Linda, resulting in song that’s thoughtful, but emotive, but quite beautiful.

Stabs of synths open Don’t Let It Go, before the rhythm section and guitars join. They’re followed by Linda’s joyful and sweet vocal, while percussion and backing vocalists augment the arrangement. Here, Linda gets a chance to display her wide vocal range, her voice soaring during the track, while a wash of synths and the rhythm section combine behind her. Like the previous track, the backing vocalists combine well with Linda, responding to her vocal with an emotive, soulful sound. Although the arrangement relies heavily on synths and keyboards, this works well, and has aged well, resulting in a catchy sounding track, made all the better by Linda’s stirring, passionate vocal.

You Don’t Know What You’re Missing has a really polished, professional sounding arrangement and production, from Bert. Add to that a soulful and tender vocal from vocal from Linda, sung against a slow arrangement, where the rhythm section, percussion and keyboards and augmented by lush strings and backing vocals. As Linda sings, the arrangement meanders behind her, revealing its beauty and subtleties. The result is one of the most beautiful tracks on A Tear and A Smile, one which demonstrates just how talented a vocalist Linda Lewis is.

Having to follow such a gorgeous track as the previous one won’t be easy, but the track that has to do that, is (Close the Door) Take You Heart Out, another of the three tracks produced by The Quick Association in the UK. Again, they rely upon synths as the track opens, which are accompanied by the rhythm section and piano. When Linda’s vocal enters, it’s gentle, but quickly grows in power. Her vocal is multi-tracked resulting in a wall of powerful vocals combining, resulting in an eighties power-ballad style. Meanwhile a rocky sounding guitar solo accompanies the vocal, drifting and out of the track, as do the multi-tracked vocals. The result is a track that’s a fusion of rock, eighties synth-pop and even power-ballads, displaying a very different side to Linda Lewis and A Tear and A Smile.

As I Can’t Get Enough opens, Linda’s vocal sound not unlike Minnie Riperton. This has been the case on several tracks, but is really apparent here. Another similarity is their vocal range, spanning over five octaves. On this track, Bert’s production results in a smooth sounding track, with a contemporary sound. With a myriad of strings, a rhythm section that combines funk and soul and a piano that drifts in and out the track, Linda delivers another emotive, impassioned vocal. Again, she’s accompanied by backing vocalists, before during a breakdown, an eighties sounding keyboard solo enters. However, overall, the result is a quite beautiful sounding song, one that’s the perfect platform for Linda’s lovely vocal.

Very different from the previous track is the final track produced by The Quick Association, This Boy. It’s a quicker track, where Linda’s powerful vocal is accompanied by a driving rhythm section, punchy, blazing horns, synths and keyboards. However, with backing vocalists accompanying Linda’s joyous, powerful vocal, the result is a catchy track, and the best of the trio produced by The Quick Association.

Why Can’t I Be the Other Woman was originally recorded by Jackie Ross in 1965, on Chess Records. Here, the track is given a smooth eighties makeover, and slowed down to 70 beats per minute. This is the slowest song on the album, with an understated arrangement, that’s allows Linda’s vocal to take centre-stage.  It’s just the rhythm section, keyboards, percussion and strings combine, before Linda’s vocal enters. It ranges from a gentle, questioning style, soaring high and powerfully,  full of frustration and emotion, against a string laden backdrop, that also includes backing vocalists. Bert DeCoteaux’s production’s is perfect for the song, while Linda delivers the lyrics with feeling, emotion and passion.

Closing A Tear and A Smile is Sweet Smile, one of only two songs Linda wrote herself. The other was I Can’t Get Enough one of the most beautiful songs on the album. Hopefully, this track will be just as good. Opening subtly, with just percussion and keyboards, Linda’s tender, heartfelt vocal enter, before guitars and the rhythm section join. They’re followed by lush strings, before a slap bass injects a sprinkling of funk into the track. Subtle, soulful backing vocalists augment Linda’s vocal, which is a mixture of tenderness, feeling and beauty. After having wondered whether Sweet Smile matched the quality of I Can’t Get Enough, I’m pleased to say it did, demonstrating not just Linda’s talent as a singer, but as a songwriter too.

Having recently reviewed Linda Lewis’s debut album Say No More, which was released in 1971, Linda’s music had changed by 1983 and the release of A Tear and A Smile. Gone was the folk and pop sound, replaced by soul, funk and even disco, with Bert DeCoteaux adding a sophisticated and polished production. One thing that hadn’t changed was Linda’s voice, which was still emotive, impassioned and beautiful, capable of delivering a variety of songs with aplomb. These include the disco sound of Destination Love, while Take Me For A Little While, You Don’t Know What You’re Missing, Can’t Get Enough, Why Can’t I Be the Other Woman and Sweet Smile are a combination of soulful sounding songs, which sometimes are infused with a modicum of funk. What’s noticeable is the change in style with the trio of tracks produced by The Quick Association. They’ve a different style and sound, with the sophisticated and polished sound produced by Bert DeCoteaux, replaced by an eighties synth and keyboard sound that was really popular in 1983. There’s nothing wrong with this production style, but you can quickly tell when the producer changes. The best of the three songs produced by The Quick Association is This Boy, which has a really joyful sound. Comparing the two production styles is an interesting exercise, but one that will depend upon your preference. However, A Tear and A Smile is a good album from Linda Lewis, one that anyone who either loves either Linda’s music, or anyone who loves good quality soulful music should seek out. A Tear and A Smile will be rereleased by BBR Records on 2nd April 2012, with five bonus tracks included on their remastered release. This will a very welcome rerelease of one of Linda Lewis’ best albums, A Tear and A Smile. Standout Tracks: Destination Love, You Don’t Know What You’re Missing, Why Can’t I Be the Other Woman and Sweet Smile. 

LINDA LEWIS-A TEAR AND A SMILE.

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