It’s pop and rock. It’s jazz via
bossa nova, it’s blues. It’s even soul and funk. But mostly, it’s just
plain cool. Bruce Blackman, founding member of the pop/rock group
Starbuck, reinvents himself and some of his hits with Moonlight
Feels Right 2014 (Bruce Blackman, 2014).
With Mike McCarty’s cover illustration depicting Blackman in a white
suit, white gloves and his trademark driving cap, the album presents a
mix of 11 new songs and stylish remakes of a few Starbuck songs. A
native of Greenville, Mississippi, Blackman handles lead vocals, bass
and keyboards. Additional vocalists are Mike Brookshire, Mike Jones,
David Powell, Tim Tice, daughter Sarah Blackman, Sandra Chalmers, Meeko,
Lina Kiwar-Michaelides, Donna Rhodes and Cheryl Wilson. Sharing bass
duties with Blackman are Larry Cianelli and Alison Prestwood. On drums
are Cianelli, Ed Massey and Scott Meeder. Guitarists are Brookshire, Mac
McInally, Tommy Strain, Robert Taylor and Glen Wood. Horns are by Ben
McCoy, Mart Avant and Chris Gordon. Additional keyboards are by Steve
Ferguson and Steve Nathan. On saxophones are Steve Black and Jay Scott.
Other musicians are Wayne Mosley, steel guitar; Robert Taylor and Glen
Pace, violin; Mary Sims Alms, viola; and Elizabeth Wasson, cello.
“The Big Hurt” is one of the bossa nova arrangements. Accented by
strings and a Stan Getz-like tenor sax, this pop hit Toni Fisher has
been covered by several jazz artists, among others. Blackman takes it a
step further, adding a touch of samba.
“Don’t You Know How to Love a Lady” was a fast-tempo, pop/disco song on
Starbuck’s Rock ’n Roll Rocket (Private Stock, 1977). Blackman
has since remade it in more of a country format. Here, the song is
slower, softer and more of a ballad. One of the strings emulates part of
the keyboard solo of the original.
“Jim’s Café” is a bright, sunny, swinging tune. Blackman makes
references to Greenville landmarks, including the levee, the Mississippi
River bridge and the former Stuckey’s store that was just east of the
bridge before closing many years ago. Solid rhythm guitar, the horns and
strings give it an orchestral feel. The organ at the end adds an element
of church. The song is part testimony of Blackman’s love for his wife,
Peggy, and part travelogue of a trip from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to
Greenville, speeding along rural highways in a 1964 Chevrolet.
Blackman and the band go bossa nova again with the title song. The
arrangement makes greater use of acoustic instruments, particularly
guitar and piano. The 1975-76 “Moonlight Feels Right” will always stand
out as one of the great pop/rock songs of romance. However, this
rendition earns its own special place.
“I’ll Make You Smile (Tribute to James)” seems very out of character for
Blackman. But once you realize what he’s doing, all you can say is, “Go,
Bruce!” Horns, including baritone sax, shouts to the band, funky bass
line. It’s Blackman, channeling the “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown.
Blackman composed lyrics and music for every song but the lone cover,
Wayne Shanklin’s “The Big Hurt.” Blackman is a native of Greenville,
Mississippi. In the 1960s, he was a member of the pop group, Eternity’s
Children. He later teamed up with marimba/vibes player Bo Wagner, and
together they formed Starbuck. That group’s “Moonlight Feels Right”
became part of the radio landscape in 1975 and gained international
popularity a year later. Starbuck toured for four years, and made
several national television appearances, including Merv Griffin,
The Midnight Special and Dinah Shore. Concert dates
included performance bills with K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Electric
Light Orchestra, Hall and Oates, Boston, Seals and Crofts and more.
After Starbuck broke up, Blackman continued to write and produce. And he
engaged in other business ventures. Thirty years would pass before he
returned to the studio. Moonlight Feels Right 2014 grew out of
a high school class reunion. For that event, he wrote “Jim’s Café,”
named for a popular diner in downtown Greenville. He made 70 copies for
his classmates, and shortly after returning to his Atlanta home,
Blackman received 500 requests from Facebook friends. That’s when he
decided to release a new album. The result is a diverse album that has
something for everyone.