Sisters Loves, With Love; Love’s Gem

Posted on September 20, 2010 by

Artist: Sisters Love
Title: With Love
Label: P&C
Genre: Soul; Funk
Release Date: September 14, 2010 (original recordings, 1972 & 1973)

Let’s be honest. The soul music of the late 60’s and early 70’s has been so thoroughly researched, analyzed and reissued that the discovery of heretofore unknown gems seems impossible. Then along comes an album like Sisters Love’s With Love to destroy that jaded notion. With Love brims with the fiery, soulful funkiness that characterizes the era’s prime recordings. And, with this set of recordings, lead vocalist Vemettya Royster stakes her claim for membership in the elite clan of female soul singers of the day.

Sisters Love was started by a group of former Raelettes, who had departed Brother Ray’s touring ensemble under varying circumstances, none of them happy. Led by Merry Clayton, the group established a loyal following with their live performances at Los Angeles area venues. The group early established a black pride identity, with colorful African inspired stage garb and Afro hairdos. In 1968, Sisters Love released a single on the tiny Man-Child label. Shortly thereafter, Clayton departed to pursue a solo career, and Royster was recruited to fill the lead vocalist role. Royster was not only a former Raelette and Ikette, but also was singing with the renowned gospel group, the Clara Ward Singers. In 1969, Sisters Love signed with A&M Records, where they recorded 6 singles, none enjoying notable success. After being dropped by A&M, the group signed, in 1972, with Motown’s nascent West Coast label, MoWest. With Love consists of Sisters Love’s recordings while at MoWest, from 1972 to 1973, which included four singles (the fourth of which was released only in Europe) and material for an album that was never released.

Throughout With Love, Sisters Love experiments with a variety of styles, but the constant that drives these recordings is Royster’s voice. She sings with a rough-hewn passion that at once invokes her gospel roots and her knowledge of more worldly matters. Not afraid to take risks, she shouts and wails her way through the all of the material at hand. The other Sisters provide a stunning choir in support, out-churching any competition. As one would expect, the production support at these Motown-conducted recording sessions is flawless, with excellent arrangements and solid playing.The album opens with a roar: a Sly Stone influenced reading of Bobby Womack’s “Communication.” An insistent bass line moves this funky groover, while Royster belts the socially conscious lyrics, calling to the response of the other Sisters in a manner reminiscent of Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” From social commentary, the Sisters next move to affairs of the – er, heart, with “Mr. Fix-it Man.” A sassy song squarely of the Jean Knight/Betty Wright school of unrequited desire, Royster warns her man:

“You’ve got to fix it, Mr. Fix-it man/If you don’t fix it baby, maybe the milkman can.”

The next cut, “You’ve Got My Mind,” heads into more atmospheric territory, with its conga and strings laden arrangement providing a backdrop for Royster’s remarkable performance, which renders lyrics almost irrelevant as she cries and moans against the harmonic chanting of her mates. Also in the atmospheric department is a revelatory re-working of Curtis Mayfield’s “Give Me Your Love,” a song from the Superfly soundtrack. Sisters Love tackles more standard Motown Sound fare with “Fast Mack” and “Just A Little Misunderstanding” (the latter having been previously recorded by the Contours and the Jackson 5). It’s just that when Royster takes righteous flight, the cool, calculated Motown vibe is threatened with incineration. This is no Mary Wells or Martha Reeves! Also worth singling out for mention is Sisters Love’s fearless assault on the Sweet Inspirations’ signature song. “Sweet Inspiration.” I love the original, but this slower, rougher and tougher rendition is glorious.

The only time the proceedings flag a bit is the rare occasion when Royster steps aside for one of her companions, as she does with “Do What You Gotta Do.” Lillie Fort takes the lead here, complete with spoken word intro, in a performance that, when compared to the other songs on the record, comes up flat (both emotionally and pitch-wise). This is a brief detour, however, on what otherwise is a road filled with the energy and passion of one of the great eras of American soul music. This is one of those collections of vintage, mostly previously unreleased material that truly qualifies for the moniker “gem.”

2 Responses to “Sisters Loves, With Love; Love’s Gem”

  1. bobbyf says:

    nice review. love your site. i live in saint paul. is there someplace that i can purchase this item locally? i hate amazon/ebay/etc.

  2. Mike Elias says:

    As a former employee of the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, I’m partial to them. I saw that it is listed on their website:
    If they don’t have it physically in stock, I’m sure they’d happily order it for you.
    thanks for checking out the site.

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