Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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Pointer Sisters

Reviewed on this page:
The Pointer Sisters - That's A Plenty - Live At The Opera House - Steppin' - Having A Party - Energy - Bonnie Pointer - Priority - Bonnie Pointer - Special Things - Black & White - So Excited - Break Out - If The Price Is Right - Contact - Hot Together - Love For What It Is - Serious Slammin' - June Pointer - Right Rhythm - Only Sisters Can Do That

The Pointer Sisters had a serious identity crisis for the first several years of their career, unable to choose among pop, nostalgia, soul, jazz, disco and funk. They had good taste, high-powered connections, four capable lead singers... but the public couldn't figure them out because they worked in so many different styles. After Bonnie split for a solo career, the remaining three sisters set their sights on mainstream pop, racking up seven Top Ten singles over the next five years. But pop is a moving target, and since the Pointers rarely write their own material, they were unable to establish a musical identity that lasted longer than one album. Soon their fortunes changed, their records slid off the charts, and they headed for Vegas and Broadway, where their stylistic chameleonship no doubt stands them in good stead. (DBW)

Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June Pointer, vocals. Bonnie left 1978.

The Pointer Sisters (1973)
At this point, it seemed like the sisters were focused on funk-rock (the hit "Yes We Can Can") and frantic jazz nostalgia ("Cloudburst," the sisters' own "Sugar" and "Jada"). Though they competently perform the sometimes complex arrangements, they don't manage to break loose and convey any individuality, and several of the compositions rely on style over substance (arranger Norman Landesberg's tacky "Pains And Tears," Wilton Felder's dreary, seven-minute "That's How I Feel"). The surprise find is a magnificent, moving down-home piano tune, "River Boulevard," by Barbara Mauritz. The band, which stayed more or less in place through 1975, was Gaylord Birch (drums), Tom Salisbury (piano), Ron McClure (bass) and Willie Fulton (guitar), but an entirely different group, the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils, appears on "Wang Dang Doodle," the most energetic piece on the disc with screaming lead guitar from John Rewind. A gold record. (DBW)

That's A Plenty (1974)
Pick a genre, any genre... The sisters deliver a straight-up blues (Son House's "Grinning In Your Face," with fine slide guitar by Bonnie Raitt), country & western ("Fairy Tale," with an all-Nashville supporting cast including David Briggs and Ken Buttrey), slow funk (Gamble & Huff's "Love In Them There Hills"). But the majority of the running time is turned over to frantic renditions of corny nostalgia numbers: the Dixieland title track and "Bangin' On The Pipes/Steam Heat" are the worst offenders; Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" is also overdone, but is redeemed by Herbie Hancock's terrific piano work. The rapid-fire vocalizing is impressive, and the sisters' combined vocal range is amazing, but they don't know when to shut up: a little of this stuff goes a long way, and every tune is significantly overweight (they drag the listener through two codas on the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross tune "Little Pony"). The best cut is Bonnie's chilling reading of the stark torch number "Black Coffee." Another gold record, produced by David Rubinson & Friends. (DBW)

Live At The Opera House (1974)
The height of the sisters' nostalgia kick; most of this double album is made up of hoary oldies ("Salt Peanuts," Hendricks Lambert Ross' "Cloudburst," Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle," "That's A Plenty"). Even songs the sisters themselves wrote sound like show tunes ("Jada," "Fairy Tale"). Though the Pointers' performances are full of energy and occasionally startling (polyrhythmic vocal percussion on "Love In Them There Hills"), it's hard to overcome the limitations of the material and the routine orchestral backing. Fortunately, they also venture into more recent territory, with Toussaint's funky "Yes We Can Can" and Sonny Burke's moving "Black Coffee"; on the down side, there's a rendition of the inexpressibly corny "Let It Be Me." If you're desperate to hear the group's early period, pick this up, but don't expect to be blown away. (DBW)

Steppin' (1975)
The sisters continued to pay homage to the past, but also explore various modern styles. The masterpiece is "How Long (Betcha Got A Chick On The Side)," an ominous-yet-danceable marriage of disco and funk with agonized lead vocals (by Anita) contrasting with the sly, knowing backups. Their funked-up take on Allan Toussaint's "Going Down Slowly" is also fun, though overextended, and they even pull off an extended Ellington tribute ("I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues") where they trade lead vocals and make up for the unimaginative arrangements with vocal exuberance. Elsewhere, Stevie Wonder drops by and adds piano to his clever jazz-flavored "Sleepin' Alone," and Herbie Hancock's fusion band plays on Taj Mahal's "Chainey Do." Lots of variety, some solid tunes ("Easy Days," written with Isaac Hayes), and each sister gets at least one lead - not their biggest commercial success but a good introduction to the group's early period. Wah Wah Watson is a major factor in the band's sound here and on the following album. Produced by David Rubinson & Friends. (DBW)

Having A Party (1977)
This flopped so badly it didn't hit the Top 40 at all, but it's a fun listen. For once the Pointers contributed most of the tunes, and they're mostly clever combinations of funk with blues ("I Need A Man") and early rock ("Lonely Gal") styles; the title track, a cover of the Sam Cooke composition, is cut from the same cloth. But there are problems: "I'll Get By Without You" seems like a failed attempt to write another "How Long," with tons of wah-wah guitar and sorrowful vocals; another Stevie contribution, "Bring Your Sweet Stuff Home To Me," sounds a bit forced. But if you favor their early R&B/funk sound over their later pop stylings, as I do, you'll want to hear this. (DBW)

Energy (1978)
After Bonnie defected, the other three sisters headed to Planet Records, run by producer Richard Perry, who had had earlier success producing Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr and Diana Ross. Perry's Big Idea here is to record pop versions of tunes by every soft-rock band in existence: they hit Fleetwood Mac ("Hypnotized"), Steely Dan ("Dirty Work"), Stephen Stills ("As I Come Of Age"), Russ Ballard ("Come And Get Your Love"), and Loggins & Messina ("Angry Eyes" - actually one of the best cuts here). They all sound the same, thanks to "when's the session over?" backing from Toto, and nothing of interest in the vocal harmonies. Most unforgivable is the sluggish version of Sly Stone's "Everybody Is A Star." The best song is the #2 single "Fire" written by Bruce Springsteen, which is pleasantly mellow until you realize it's a blatant commercial for date rape. Guests include Davey Johnstone, James Newton Howard, Waddy Wachtel and Randy Bachman (!). (DBW)

Bonnie Pointer (Bonnie: 1978)
Bonnie's solo debut; produced by Jeffrey Bowen and Berry Gordy, and Bowen follows the same formula he used on the Temptations' Wings Of Love: one danceable side arranged by Family Stone member Truman Thomas, and one ballad side written and arranged by Donald Baldwin. The Family Stone side contains two 60s Motown numbers, Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Heaven Must Have Sent You" (a single, with James Jamerson playing bass in his classic style) and Smokey Robinson's "When I'm Gone." The Baldwin side contains the lovely "More And More," and an effective jazz torch tribute "My Everything" (with drumming by Nigel Olsson). Most of the guitar and bass tracks were laid down by Funkadelic Eddie Hazel, and they're surprisingly tame, though he adds a bizarre banjo break to "Free Me From My Freedom." Guest star power aside, Bonnie herself is a one-woman Pointer Sisters, singing all the backing vocals and gliding between styles effortlessly, exciting or restrained as the material demands. The songwriting is inconsistent, and the running time is short, but otherwise this is a high-quality effort. (DBW)

Priority (1979)
Perry doubled down on whitebread rock covers: Ian Hunter's "Who Do You Love" was the single, there's more Springsteen ("(She's Got) The Fever)," and Perry also finds room for Bob Seger (the "Bang A Gong"-like "All Your Love"), Graham Parker ("Turned Up Too Late") and the Stones ("Happy"). The tunes are dreary, and everything gets a dull country-rock arrangement ("The Shape I'm In"), but the sisters' vocals occasionally transcend everything ("Dreaming As One"; a raucous take on Richard Thompson's "Don't Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart"). The core band is Wachtel and Dan Dugmore (guitar), Rick Marotta (drums), Scott Chambers (bass), and Bill Payne (piano); Nicky Hopkins guests on "Bind Faith." (DBW)

Bonnie Pointer (Bonnie: 1979)
Another year, another self-titled album, but make sure you don't pick this one up by mistake. After the success of "Heaven," Bowen cut a whole album of 60s remakes, such as "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" (with a nice Diana impression and a banjo break from Tracey Singleton) and"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" (with Earl Van Dyke on piano). Despite Bonnie's best efforts, the project comes off as flat, calculated and artistically lazy. The one original, "Deep Inside My Soul," features Baldwin; otherwise, players include Hazel, Thomas, Freddie Stewart, and on two tracks, Sly himself (guitar on "Nowhere To Run"; Arp on "Jimmy Mack"). Despite the players' pedigree, though, the record's distinctly unfunky, instead wavering between an homage to Motown's classic pop sound ("Come See About Me") and late period disco ("Can't Help Myself"). (DBW)

Special Things (1980)
Thankfully, Perry dropped the soft-rock schtick here. Though he does find room for a blatant ripoff of the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body Down (To The Ground)" ("Could I Be Dreamin'"), most of the record is either bouncy pop (the hit single "He's So Shy," the sly "Evil") or ballads ("Where Did The Time Go" and "The Love Too Good To Last," both by Burt Bacharach & Carole Bayer Sager, "Here Is Where Your Love Belongs"). Unabashedly mainstream pop product, but not unrewarding. The usual top studio players are present and accounted for: Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho da Costa, Paul Jackson, Nathan Watts, Marlo Henderson. You get the idea. (DBW)

Black & White (1981)
Yet another top five single, the ballad "Slow Hand," and the megacatchy "Should I Do It" was also a major hit. The sisters get a couple of co-writes ("We're Gonna Make It"), but the hits and most of the rest are by by pros like Jerry Ragovoy. The band is mostly made up of top session musicians including Nathan Watts, Paul Jackson, Greg Phillinganes, and (you saw this coming) Paulinho Da Costa. Perry plays it completely safe, and the result is a cookie-cutter pop sound that's pleasant but forgettable. (DBW)

So Excited (1982)
More solid but characterless pop produced by Perry. The hooks are good, and there are no lapses of taste or reckless experimentalism, but there are no new ideas either: it's symptomatic that the cover of Prince' "I Feel For You" is a note for note copy. There are a lot of dated squiggly synths, though the hit "I'm So Excited" has a prominent natural-sounding piano part. The vocals are mellow (the Pointers don't even sound very excited on the title track), as if they were aiming directly for the Adult Contemporary market ("American Music"). (DBW)

Baby Sister (June: 1982)

Break Out (1984)
By now Perry had been listening to Prince's 1999 over and over, and this album is overflowing with the Minneapolis sound: electronic percussion and synth bass rule; there's a ballad ("Easy Persuasion") with drum programming lifted from "Lady Cab Driver"; there's even a song title borrowed ("Automatic"). Not surprisingly, this was a huge hit, their biggest ever: it went Top Ten and platinum. The three Top Ten singles were "Jump" - catchy if repetitious uptempo pop - plus the frantic "Neutron Dance" and the slower "Automatic" with exceptionally deep vocals on the bridge. The good news is that the vocals are considerably more prominent and intense than on the previous release. Completely derivative, and a footnote historically, but not unenjoyable. Curiously, some versions of this album have "I'm So Excited" again instead of "Nightline." (DBW)

If The Price Is Right (Bonnie: 1984)
Jeffrey Bowen produced this one for Private Eye Records, and without the Motown machine behind him he's helpless: he uses the same high-energy production gimmicks as Perry, but without any verve or imagination, and the compositions are dreadful - I was going to call them "tunes," but they're not: they're just collections of high-tech sounds, like an aerobics soundtrack. Bonnie's vocals are basically irrelevant, with the synths and fake percussion crashing all over the place, and one track is barely distinguishable from another. Even the two contributed by Brian Holland fit the mold: "Johnny" (which also features Anita and Ruth) and "Tight Blue Jeans." I think this was more or less the final nail in the coffin of Bonnie's solo career. (DBW)

Contact (1985)
Perry really goes overboard with mid-80s pop clichés, especially the Phil Collins snare sound and insipid keyboard bass lines. He even goes with stuttering sampled vocals on "Bodies And Souls." But he's so caught up in his production gimmicks he forgot to track down substantial tunes: most of the songs are built on obvious hooks ("Twist My Arm," "Burn Down The Night"), and even the good compositions have disposable lyrics ("Hey You," the single "Dare Me"). The Pointers get some belting in ("Freedom"), though they're often playing second fiddle to Perry's synths. Don't rush to track this down, but fans of the group's mid-80s commercial peak will still get something out of it. The same year, the sisters contributed vocals to "We Are The World" and a lackluster song, "Just A Little Closer," to the accompanying album. (DBW)

Hot Together (1986)
Here we go again: another loud, clanging Perry production that strives for attitude and ends up just being irritating. There's almost nothing to distinguish this disc from Contact, except that none of the three singles ("Goldmine," "Mercury Rising," "All I Know Is The Way I Feel") have even the marginal entertainment value of "Dare Me." I would never want to imply that cocaine was a factor, but I can't think of any other reason Perry could convince himself that this tuneless collection with the same aggressive synths and rhythms on nearly every track would be a hit. What's most infuriating about this is that the sisters can still sing (title track), they just don't have anything to work with. If you love Ruth's ultralow vocals (as heard on "Automatic") you'll get a kick out of "Taste," but this is the low point of the Pointers' career. (DBW)

Love For What It Is (Anita Pointer: 1987)
This not the worst album I've ever heard, but it is the most generic - pure Urban Adult Contemporary schlock, with nothing approaching an original idea or genuine feeling. Producer Preston Glass has done good work, but not here: the tunes were apparently selected for their use of overworked catchphrases ("Have A Little Faith In Love," "Overnight Success," "More Than A Memory"), and the arrangements are purely by the book. The usually reliable Brenda Russell's contribution, "Beware Of What You Want" (cowritten with Glass), is the most obvious number she's ever done. Anita didn't write anything, though I'm sure anything she had lying around would've been an improvement. Philip Bailey brings some life to the duet "The Pledge," a ridiculous rewrite of the Pledge of Allegiance - he's the only notable guest aside from Anita's daughter Jada, who sings backing vocals throughout. Glass played keyboards and programmed the electronic drums, aided and abetted by Steve Diamond (guitars), Marc Russo (sax solo on the title track) and Ned "Yo Bad" Selfe (steel guitar on "Temporarily Blue"). If you like this, you're in luck, because you'll like pretty much any record out there. (DBW)

Serious Slammin' (1988)
The last Perry production, and again it's rather desperate: the electronic arrangements are aggressive (title track, later covered by George Clinton), the lyrics are fluff at best ("Shut Up And Dance") and offensive at worst ("Flirtatious"), including jive attempts at street lingo ("Uh Uh"). Besides all the fake Urban Contemporary, there are a few drippy ballads ("I Will Be There"). There are a lot of well-known songwriters represented here (Dianne Warren, Siedah Garrett, Jonathan Butler, Matthew Wilder, even Sandra Bernhard) but there's not much depth to the compositions, and the better ones ("He Turned Me Out," "I Will Be There") just make you wish for less self-conscious production. The sisters are mostly at the mercy of all the backing tracks: often you can't hear them, and when you can they're usually hurrying through some lyrical cliché. Session players include Paul Jackson and Jeff Lorber. (DBW)

June Pointer (June: 1989)
June's second solo effort continues in the same hyper, hi-tech direction as the Sisters records, but it's more successful, with a range of producers bringing different ideas and approaches to the "dance or ballad" routine. Rhett Lawrence contributes the powerful dance track "Tight On Time (I'll Fit U In)" and Kashif comes up with three decent tracks: "Fool For Love," "Live With Me" and the sensitive closer "Love On The Line," by Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers. June's vocals are enthusiastic, even on the less interesting tunes (the rote, uptempo "Keeper Of The Flame," with keyboards by Randy "The Great Randini" Waldman). But it's not great or anything: there are too many lackluster love songs with labored lyrics ("Put Your Dreams Where Your Hard Is," "Parlez Moi D'Amour" by Narada Michael Walden and Preston Glass, fresh from nipping Anita's solo career in the bud). Exec produced by Carole Bayer Sager, who cowrote the dull ballad "Why Can't We Be Together" with Burt Bacharach and Bruce Roberts, and the less dull "How Long (Don't Make Me Wait)" with David Foster and Tom Keane. Don't walk over burning coals to get this, but if you're a fan it's a pleasant listen. (DBW)

Right Rhythm (1990)
The sisters jumped to Motown for this release, mostly produced by Prince associate Levi Seacer Jr. He puts together a completely professional, completely uninteresting set: there are a couple of forgettable ballads ("What A Woman Wants"), some revved-up silliness ("Insanity"), a repetitive anti-drug PSA ("Billy Said Yes"), and some generic pop-funk ("You Knocked The Love (Right Outta My Heart)"). It's more tasteful and not as annoying as the previous record, but there's nothing you'd want to hear twice, either. Practically the only fun on the CD is the bonus track "(We Just Wanna) Thank You," based on samples from their early 80s salad days over a spare organ-led Minneapolis funk groove. (DBW)

Only Sisters Can Do That (1993)
Produced by Peter Wolf, and the result is the Pointers' best album in years: the arrangements are thoroughly up-to-date dance pop without being aggressively fashionable, and plenty of room is left for the sisters' vocals, which are enthusiastic and even rambunctious (title track). The lyrics are a big step up from previous releases, clever and assertive ("It Ain't A Man's World," incorporating poetry by Maya Angelou) including several tunes cowritten by the Pointers ("I Want Fireworks"). The tunes are consistently catchy ("Feel For The Physical," "Lose Myself To Find Myself") though often somewhat derivative ("Vibe Time" sounds like another rewrite of the Emotions' "Best Of My Love"), and Wolf gets in some exciting, original piano playing ("Sex, Love Or Money"). The only notable guest is main guitarist Sheldon Reynolds. (DBW)

Highlights From Ain't Misbehavin': The New Cast Recording (1995)
The sisters toured with a revival of the Fats Waller jukebox musical, concurrently putting down this cast album. Anita, June and especially Ruth are comfortable and expressive in the pre-big band jazz style they'd abandoned in the early 70s, while the backing is supple and unobtrusive - the results are far less tacky and cluttered than the 1978 recording by the original Broadway cast headed up by Nell Carter. In fact - heresy alert - I find these tracks easier to dig than Waller's own sides, which to my ears contain a lot of Dixieland cheese and broad interpretations. (DBW)


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