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Known principally as a smooth titan of blue-eyed soul, Bobby Caldwell transcended genre tags with consummate ease; he was a musical icon of real class and versatility, cherished the world over. Tragically passing away in March 2023 at the too young age of 71, it still feels as if Bobby’s true artistry is profoundly under-appreciated. His double platinum self-titled album from 1978 is a timeless masterpiece of sophisticated jazzy soul brilliance and is strictly canonical. Yes, it’s perfect, yet it’s been out of press on vinyl for years. We’re deeply honoured to present the long-awaited reissue this summer.
Whilst Ned Doheny is known in Japan as “Mr California”, native New Yorker Bobby Caldwell has always been ""Mr AOR"" to his Far-Eastern friends. His distinct charm is an irresistible blend of soul, jazz, and pop influences. He possessed phenomenal songwriting prowess, smooth vocal performances, was both a great soul guitarist and dextrous keyboard player and known for genius chord progressions. It all added up to a multi-layered brilliance entering the studio, and the singular sound he landed on was laced with soulful, sweeping strings and funky horns, touching lightly on disco, while allowing his supple voice to carry the stunning tracks he’d crafted.
String-swept opener “Special To Me” immediately sets the tone with its lush instrumentation, rich harmonies, and Caldwell’s velvety-smooth vocals. Next up, a huge one. The infectious, mid-tempo bounce of “My Flame” showcases Caldwell’s ability to effortlessly blend catchy pop hooks with soulful arrangements. It’s an exquisite, emotive ballad that, at the same time, absolutely SLAPS. Game recognise game, and all that, so, accordingly, Notorious B.I.G. memorably ran with “My Flame” for his 1997 single “Sky’s The Limit”. The rolling, disco-very “Love Won’t Wait” is a slick, uptempo track containing heartfelt lyrics intertwined with elegant strings and a horn section to die for. Aching – and achingly cool – single ""Can’t Say Goodbye"" is a real fan favourite, and it’s no surprise. It’s a laconic, slow-mo jazz-funk stepper, with fantastic, very deliberate playing that closes out the A Side quite exceptionally. “Come To Me” slows proceedings down elegantly to open Side B before the universally agreed-upon masterpiece enters proceedings.
“What You Won’t Do for Love,” the standout hit that became a classic in its own right, perfectly captured Bobby’s ability to infuse a contagious groove with introspective and relatable lyrics. With its instantly recognisable horn riff and Caldwell’s soulful delivery, this timeless, chiller anthem continues to captivate audiences and define his musical legacy. He scored huge with the track, taking over the pop and R&B airways with this mellow soul stepper. It has remained a perennial favourite and has been heavily sampled, such is its unique allure; Aaliyah sang over snatches of it on ""Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number"" and you can hear Caldwell’s vocal sample used for the hook on Tupac’s posthumously released “Do For Love”.
Upon submitting the finished album to his label, they requested more material in hope of a big single. As Bobby remembered to Wax Poetics a few years ago: “Now at this point, I’m mentally exhausted…and bear in mind that I got so close to all the songs I’d written. I gave each song a profound amount of thought, and maybe too much. So, in haste, I went in and cut this song, ""What You Won’t Do For Love"". Wrote it in a day, cut the rhythm track, overdubbed the horns, I sang the song, and literally turned it in three days after. And lo and behold, the one song I gave the least thought to,” Bobby laughed, “ended up being a national anthem.”
The mysterious, magical “Kalimba Song” is a cosmic, kalimba-driven melodic-funk instrumental – short but oh, so sweet. It’s followed by the supreme tear-jerker “Take Me Back To Then”, Bobby’s otherworldly voice deeply longing for a simpler time, “when life was mellow”. I think we can all get behind this sentiment. The final cut is arguably its deepest, its low-key finest moment. For us, it is, anyway. The glorious, driving, effortlessly funky guitar-soul jam ""Down For The Third Time"" is a huge melancholic Be With favourite and has been played by discerning genre-hopping DJs with significant glee for years. Hypnotic, melodic, beautiful. Like the album it elegantly rounds out.
Bobby sadly passed away on 23rd March 2023, after a long struggle with mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress, due to an adverse effect from a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. The reissue of his wonderful eponymous album will be available on vinyl across the globe, ensuring that fans of his incomparable talent – and soul music enthusiasts worldwide – can radiate in the deep beauty of this seminal album. Meticulously remastered and cut by both Simon Francis and Cicely Balston respectively, it has been pressed to the highest possibly quality at Record Industry in Holland.
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