"Closer Than Close" gathers together many of Jean Carne's best songs from the years 1976-1988, mainly covering releases on Philadelphia International Records (PIR) and Motown. Carne is a fine singer, who started her recording career singing Jazz, but later broadened her horizons to include Soul, and R&B (as in disco). Her musical sojourn has included stints working with Earth Wind & Fire (as a backing singer), and the late Duke Ellington.
The predominant style throughout most of the album is jazz-tinged TSOP Soul, with the attendant horns and strings. This is hardly surprising, given the role of Gamble and Huff (owners of PIR) in Carne's career during the late 1970's and early 1980's. Somewhat surprisingly, PIR had little success with female solo vocalists, although Carne did achieve varying success on the R&B charts during her five year stay. She later went on to have a number one hit on the R&B charts with the Grover Washington produced "Closer Than Close," which is included here.
There are several particularly good tracks, including "There's a Shortage of Good Men," which fits into the same musical slot as The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men," and Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox's duet "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." There's also a fine version of the Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes classic "If You Don't Know Me By Now," which includes backing vocals by The Temptations. It is rather ironic that a Philly classic was to provide Carne's only hit during her short, and relatively unhappy stint at Motown.
Perhaps the pick of the tracks though is the closing version of Aretha's "Ain't No Way." This was Carne's last single to make the R&B charts, breaking into the top 30 in 1988. It highlights that Carne is a highly talented powerful singer, who can carry off a great Soul tune, given half a chance. Although she remains active as a performer, she has only recorded one new album in the intervening period.
"Closer Than Close" offers a reminder of what life was like back in the days when TSOP and Gamble and Huff were at their peak. If you're a fan of TSOP and the sounds of Anita Baker, or Regina Belle, then chances are you'll like this too. It offers a balanced blend of ballads and dance music, although some of the songs do sound a little dated now (such as "Was That All It Was"). Unfortunately that may ultimately deter the younger elements of the record buying public.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.