Williams shapes up for the 80s with this timeless album.
Daryl Easlea 2012
A showcase for one of the great soul voices, My Melody is one of Deniece Williams’ very best albums. Supremely talented, Williams had been in the public eye for most of the 70s, first as one of Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove vocalists and then for her superlative 1976 debut album, This Is Niecy, produced by Rotary Connection mastermind Charles Stepney and Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White. It spawned the UK No.1 hit Free, surely one of the most sincere expressions of love in a pop single.
Stepney was to pass away soon after working on her debut, and Williams’ work faltered somewhat. Not that anyone would have noticed, as her career was full of chart smashes – notably her album of duets with Johnny Mathis, That’s What Friends Are For – but her records failed to match the astonishingly soulful integrity of her debut.
My Melody paired her with legendary producer Thom Bell, and for the first time Williams shared a production credit. Recorded at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, My Melody sounds like a lost Philly classic made at least a decade earlier. Using the very finest session players, such as Motown bassist Bob Babbitt and MFSB guitarist Bobby Eli, it is a confident, grown-up album from an artist who was then turning 30.
“It is not another song, it belongs to me,” Williams sings on the title track, suggesting how personal the work was to her. Even Suspicious, which is akin to a cover band playing a Paul McCartney reggae pastiche, comes off well due to the infectious qualities of Williams’ voice and its killer chorus.
However, it was the album’s third single, Silly, that was its standout. Belying her new maturity, it could have been written by a giddy schoolgirl falling for the wrong guy. Bell’s sumptuous string arrangements complement her breathless lament.
My Melody placed Williams back in the US R&B top 20, and Silly became an enormous radio smash in the autumn of 1981. Her purple patch continued with her second Philadelphia album, Niecy, the following year. But, alongside her beautiful debut, My Melody is arguably her most complete work.