Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lindy Stevens - Pure Devotion (1972)



Never released on CD and never circulated on the Web until now, the lone album by Lindy Stevens, Pure Devotion, is a lost gem. The ten-song Decca release is a classic ’70s singer-songwriter album in the style of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro. And while it’s sometimes a bit too derivative of those artists, it has enough first-rate songs and performances to make it a standout effort.

Stevens is best known for her 1972 single “Pennygold.” The song is an upbeat, danceable number that became a Northern Soul favorite in England years after its release. It’s featured on several UK soul collections as well as Volume 214 of the Lost Jukebox series.

But Stevens wasn’t a blue-eyed soul artist, as that 45 might suggest. Her music fit in more with the type of mellow, acoustic performers in vogue back then on who recorded for Asylum and Columbia Records. Maybe if she’d been signed to one of those labels, she’d have found some success.

Stevens’ music also had a religious bent. This might seem a bit esoteric now, but back then the genre or “God Rock” was all the rage. God Rock hits included songs like George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Ocean’s “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day,” and Sister Janet Mead’s rock rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is forgotten now but became a U.S. Top 5 hit and an international smash in 1974. God Rock was also helped along by the mega-success of two 1971 musicals, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.”

With all that in mind, it stood to reason that the first single pulled from Stevens’ album was the gospel-derived power ballad “Help Me Jesus” and that her album led off with a song titled “Ask the Lord.”

But you don’t need to be religious to be drawn in by Stevens’ highly melodic songs and soaring, ethereal voice. According to the press release about her (a copy of which is included here), Stevens was just 21 when this LP was released. She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was a guitar player who only took to piano 18 months before the release of this album.

The album was produced by Bobby Torres, a conga player who has performed with countless acts, and Matthew Moore, a keyboard player. Session pro Dean Parks handles the guitar parts.

As nice as this disc is, it didn’t sell. Part of the problem was the lead-off single, “Help Me Jesus,” which is a terrific song, but not a great single (there is a difference). It might seem surprising that the super-catchy second single, “Pennygold,” didn’t find favor with the public in its day. But it looks like that was only ever issued in promotional copies, so if DJ's didn't play it, it's doubtful many people heard it back then.

A final, non-LP side that issued afterward the album’s release was also only ever issued as a promotional disc, so it's little surprise it failed to make the charts. “(Win Back Some) Respect)” is a number that starts out a bit too mellow but builds up to a great chorus. This single paired Stevens with different producers, Norman Kurban and David Campbell, who conducted and arranged the string section on Carole King’s Rhymes and Reasons album. Stevens seems to have left the music biz after this release..

About Lindy Stevens’ Singles

Pure Devotion runs just over thirty minutes, so it made sense to append Stevens’ singles sides to it as bonus tracks. Decca issued three singles by her, with the last two being promotional-only copies, as noted above.

Stevens’ first single, “Help Me Jesus,” is a 3:35 edit of the album track (listed at 6:05 on the LP label). The single edit lops off the 30-second introduction and the second verse. This single was issued in stereo. Its b-side, “Make Ends Meet,” is the stereo mix from the album, so it’s not included here.

“Pennygold,” Stevens’ second single, has a different mix from the LP version. Some elements were added, such as handclaps and an additional vocal, making the lead vocal double-tracked. The piano is either mixed way higher or a second piano track was added. It’s hard to tell, but either way, there’s more piano. The track is also far more compressed.

Finally, “(Win Back Some) Respect,” as mentioned, is not on the album. It was only ever issued as a disc jockey single with both stereo and mono mixes, so they’re both included here.

All of these rips were done from the actual singles, not taken from existing compilations, so if you ever wanted to hear a clean “Pennygold” 45, now is your chance.

None of Stevens' 45 records were reviewed in Billboard, so it's difficult to figure out exact release dates. However, approximate dates can be sussed out by searching for old Billboard magazine reviews of Decca 45s with serial numbers that came immediately before Stevens' own. Her singles releases are as follows, with designated a-sides listed first.

Help Me Jesus/Make Ends Meet - Decca 32936
This was probably issued in March 1972, because the Decca release two serial numbers prior (Jimmy Martin's “I'd Like to Be Sixteen Again;” Decca 32934) was reviewed in Billboard's March 11, 1972 issue.

Pennygold/Some More of Your Lovin' - Decca 32971
Most likely a June, 1972 release. The Decca single before this one, 32970, was reviewed in the June 10, 1972 Billboard. Decca 32970 was Carl Belew and Betty Jean Robinson's “You're the One.”

(Win Back Some) Respect (Stereo)/(Win Back Some) Respect (Mono) - Decca 33022
The probably came out in Nov. 1972. DECCA 33015 (Wynn Stewart's “Paint Me A Rainbow”) was reviewed in the Nov. 4, 1972 issue.

***

This rip was done from a near-mint copy of the album -- something not easily found. Headphone listeners will notice that the “stereo spread” is nearly non-existent and it sounds almost like a mono mix. That’s not a flaw in the ripping or editing process. This is the way the album actually sounds, and all three copies I’ve owned were like this. Was this album recorded on a four-track machine, even though it was 1972? Judging from the mix it sure sounds that way.

There are also some tiny imperfections in the mix, notably at least one bad edit and an odd “squeak” sound buried in the introduction of the eighth track, “Didn’t You Know.” These quirks show up on every pressing.

Track list:
1. Ask The Lord
2. Devotion
3. Walking By His Open Door
4. Golden Friend
5. Make Ends Meet
6. Pennygold
7. Some More Of Your Lovin'
8. Didn't You Know
9. It'll All Come Back To You
10. Help Me, Jesus

Bonus tracks:
11. Help Me Jesus (Single Edit)
12. Pennygold (Mono Single Mix)
13. Some More Of Your Lovin' (Mono Single Mix)
14. (Win Back Some) Respect (Stereo Mix)
15. (Win Back Some) Respect (Mono Mix)

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. Thanks. Lukas

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