A master of soul
Reviewed November 2009
By Leon Ware
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
While Leon Ware is not a household name in R&B and soul music in 2009, he has left his imprint in the musical memories of most listeners. Marvin Gaye's album "I Want You" and its title song were co-written and co-produced by Ware in 1976, along with the other music on the disc; he also has written and produced hits for the Jackson 5 and other R&B artists for decades.
Now in his late 60s, Ware has a new album of his own, "Moon Ride."
On immediate listen, the opener and title cut comes across as a bit of a throwback to "I Want You." "Moon Ride," and many of the other cuts on the disc, feature the production that made Gaye's sound so compelling: a steady but soft funk bass beat overlaid with mellow keyboard string fills, guitar figures, then Ware coming in and out of both channels with layers of breathless vocals superimposed onto one another. The formula works, and whatever vocal limitations Ware may have are not apparent as he often has three voices going at once, without them crowding each other.
"Hold Tonight" is a soulful ballad that is so lush and shimmering that it almost doesn't matter that it lacks a memorable hook. "Just Take Your Time" is better, but the best things about these tunes are probably the mixing board magic. "Smoovin'" gets things untracked and has a beat, and along with "To Serve You (All My Love)," which challenges the title tune and as the highlight of the disc. "To Serve You" starts off with about twenty seconds that sound like a lift from any of four or five early '70s Marvin Gaye tunes, and continues the trend as a softly driving, funk workout with a Gaye feel and falsettos galore.
"I Never Loved So Much" relies so much on background vocal harmonies that it has stretches that sound like an old Boys II Men song, but it is still a reasonably catchy and effective soul ballad. "Urban Nights" closes matters with a tune about the inner city, but the percussion, slap-bass and other edgy instruments are lushly covered by a wash of keyboards, acoustic guitar scales, and three or four choruses of background singers calling and responding.
The overall result of Ware's disc is very reminiscent of his earlier work and the floating-on-air arrangements of many of the eight ballads on the 12-song disc make it an easy, relaxing listen. Ware is a master arranger and producer, and a good enough singer and songwriter to combine to make these songs into a pleasing collection of classy soul music.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.