Collaborations by Jean Carne – reviewed by Chris Mann



Jean Carne’s remarkable voice was fist heard as a backing singer with Earth, Wind & Fire in the mid-70’s. 

Out of that collaboration and other mid-70’s projects which you’ll hear on this album, Jean emerged as a true soul stylist.  I won’t be using the term R & B in this review – to me it’s a manufactured label and there’s nothing manufactured about Jean Carne’s music. 

This release chronicles the most outstanding work that Jean has done with other artists. 

That unique voice matches the classy vocal of Al Johnson on the mid-tempo gem I’m Back for More from 1980.  By the second song Let’s Stay together – duetting with Bobby M, I’ve remembered how much I love Jean Carne’s voice.  She explores the lower end of her five-octave range on Grover Washington Jr’s Keep in Touch.  This song is gorgeous and uplifting and the late, great Mr Washington’s sax is as sweet as ever.

On Lonnie Liston Smith’s sexy Starflower, the trademark voice makes this Hiroshima-style dreamy number something really special.  The romance is turned up for the Dexter Wansel-produced Love is Beautiful (When It’s Right) and Jean delivers the word “you” like no other singer.  You’ll have to listen to know what I mean.  Jean’s existing fans will already know.  Boy, that sounds like Ronnie Laws on Soprano sax! 

I recently bought Roy Ayers’ You Might Be Surprised on CD for the shockingly funky Virgo.  I overlooked the title track, which was a shame because both Jean and Roy shine vocally on this archetypal slick 80’s soul track.    Holdin’ On with Dexter Wansel is a slant on the eternal triangle theme.  Wansel’s production is masterful and his vocal performance must be one of his best. 

You can already see that Jean’s at home with jazz giants – her blissful rendition of Bobby Lyle’s Night Breeze makes that very clear.  I thought nothing could touch Ronnie Laws’ version of this tune.  Wrong!!  It’s my favourite song in this collection.  Valentine Love with bassist/vocalist Michael Henderson is a trip down memory lane for old funk and soul fans like me.  Hands up if you can remember when the album “You Are My Starship” first got airplay in the UK.  1975 was a good year for fans of this music. 

Jobim’s Dindi is an over-covered song and this version is not one of the more commercial and accessible ones.  The voice is great – the arrangement is, well, quirky.  If you were to write a list of 24-carat, stone soul classics, this next song would be on it for sure.  This version of Gamble and Huff’s timeless If You Don’t Know Me By Now with, wait for it, The Temptations should be on your CD player soon.  I mean soon  Dreams of Tomorrow with Dexter Wansel is another quirky tune.  Some 70’s soul was too experimental for me – and too grand. 

Nearly thirty years on, Norman Connors’ Mother of the Future has always exemplified exotic jazz-funk for me.  I’ll be honest; I never realised that Jean Carne was the vocalist on this song.  The drums, percussion and sax are all nuts.  Hey, the bass and horns are nuts too.  Hell, the song’s nuts – I love it!  Grover’s sax is much mellower on Bacharach’s The Look of Love.  Enjoy that lazy groove and Ralph Macdonald’s trademark percussion. 

90’s classy soul from Jean and Billy Paul on Good Thing Goin’ On.  Two classic soul voices and a strong lyric make this little-known song a treat for soul fans.  Nathan Heathman is a singer whose voice is new to me.  Lean On Me is not the old Bill Withers song and despite its strong message, it’s unlikely to emerge as a classic like Bill’s.  The strands that run through the album, Al Johnson as writer and singer, Norman Connors as producer, tie up the 17-song set with Trust Me from Jean’s solo album of the same name.  It’s a very classy closer. 

A compilation of this standard was really needed.  As I listened to these songs, it became clear just how influential Jean Carne is and why she is revered by legions of soul fans.  Expansion Records in the UK carries the torch for music like this and has put together a superb, well thought out and well-documented package.  Some of the tracks here are available on CD for the first time. 

As I’m writing this, a 7-date tour is planned in the UK.  Maybe we’ll hear songs from this collection on one of those nights (wave if you’re in Manchester on January 26th…) but whether we do or not, this album deserves your support.  Soul boys and girls rush out and get it while it’s hot!  


Expansion Records – CD EXCL 2   Producer – Michael A. Grimaldi