Evelyn "Champagne" King
Reviewed on this page:
Smooth Talk - Music Box - Call On Me - I'm In Love -
Get Loose - Flirt - Open Book
Evelyn King was fifteen, substituting for her sister as cleaning woman in Philadephia's Sigma Studios, when producer
T. Life overheard her singing to herself. He got her a contract, produced her first album, and she was on her
way to fame. She racked up several hits during disco's heyday, and has had inconsistent success since. King (who temporarily dropped the
"Champagne" nickname during the 80s) has a beautiful voice and a savvy, sensual presence, but like most non-writing singers,
she's more or less at the mercy of her producers, and has fallen into her share of traps in ill-fated attempts to remain "commercial" -
not unlike Gladys Knight, who King often resembles vocally.
I don't know of any fan site as such, but there's a pretty good one-page
writeup on her here.
Smooth Talk (1977)
King's debut, produced by Theodore Life of Instant Funk, is astonishingly solid. The leadoff single "Shame" gives disco a good name: it masterfully combines sax licks, complementary rhythm guitars,
a tension-building tune, and King sounding well beyond her sixteen years.
The surprise is that many of the other tracks approach the same level: "Till I Come Off The Road" and "We're Going To A
Party" are cheerfully raunchy, hook-filled R&B; "The Show Is Over" is a sweet, strong ballad.
Overall, the lush funk approach is perhaps closest to Rufus (on the midtempo "I Don't Know If It's Right,"
also a hit, King even imitates Chaka Khan's phrasing), but with denser, more percussion-heavy arrangements.
The weakest track is the Chic-like "Dancin', Dancin', Dancin'," and even that isn't terrible (albeit frighteningly derivative).
Music Box (1979)
Life came back with another batch of tunes in the same rich blend of styles (the Patrice Rushen-sounding horn showpiece "Steppin' Out"). Nothing screams "hit!" like "Shame," but there are plenty of quality numbers like the toothsome love song "Let's Start All Over Again," upbeat froth "Out There" and the slow funk "I Think My Heart Is Telling."
Meanwhile, King has her cake and eats it too, playing the good girl oozing sensuality ("No Time For Fooling Around," featuring Instant Funk) - having fun but not too much fun ("It's Just A Matter Of Time").
Most of the album has Leo Adamian (drums), Will Lee or Robert Berry Jr. (bass) and Stephen Robbins (keys), plus Stephen Love and Life on guitars.
Call On Me (1980)
T. Life's third and final King project, and while his ear for arranging details is as good as ever (the strings on "Talk Don't Hurt Nobody"),
his tunes aren't. "Let's Get Funky Tonight" is painfully dull disco by numbers; "I Need Your Love" is a routine ballad; "Universal Girl"
is a disconnected mess. But there are enough wonderful touches - Brian & Eddie Holland's "Just A Little Bit Of Love,"
which uses disconcertingly loud guitar to create an eerie mood; King's playful vocals on the title track - to make it worthwhile for fans.
Players include Will Lee and Francisco Centeno (bass); Steve Love, Thomas McNeil and John Fitch (guitar),
Nat Lee and Steve Robbins (keyboards); Leo Admaian (drums); and Rubens Bassini (percussion); Ullanda
McCullough is one of the backup vocalists.
I'm In Love (1981)
Willie Lester and Rodney Brown produced Side Two, sticking with formula disco with unilluminating results ("What Are You Waiting For,"
"The Other Side Of Love," "The Best In Yet To Come") - "I Can't Take It" is the best of the batch.
Fortunately, the other side was turned over to Morrie Brown and Kashif, formerly a passenger on the B.T. Express ("Do It (Til You're Satisfied)"), and they abruptly invented Hi-NRG dance, a frothy mix of programmed percussion, Moog bass, chorused guitar, and squiggly treble synth.
The combination produced the title track, a dancefloor hit, and a bunch of soundalikes ("If You Want My Lovin'"). Less successfully, they also mix in a ballad ("Don't Hide Our Love," a weak copy of "Be Ever Wonderful").
Get Loose (1982)
Brown and Kashif got the whole album this time, and came up with the lovely dance track "Love Come
Down," a huge hit. Though the format is largely the preceding disc's Hi-NRG, Kashif's
attention to soft instrumental shadings makes for an agreeable blend
of 80s synths and 70s smoothness. There are two big problems, though:
the rest of the songs are thin, with repetitive lyrics ("Back To Love")
and lackluster riffs ("Betcha She Don't Love You" is an exception); and
King's singing is characterless, lacking flair, except on the ballad
"I'm Just Warming Up" and the fadeout of "Love Come Down." Since we've
all heard her belt out "Shame," the problem isn't with her pipes; I'm
guessing the blame can be attributed to producer Morrie Brown, who
presumably wanted her to affect a tiny voice to appeal to teenyboppers,
or something. Paul Lawrence Jones III wrote and performed the weakest,
most mechanical tracks; other musicians include Andy Newmark (drums), Ira Siegel
(guitar), and Barry Eastmond (keys). There's no compelling reason to get
this unless you can't live without the single. (DBW)
Face To Face (1983)
The singles were "Action" and "Shake Down."
Producers include Andre Cymone and Leon Sylvers III.
So Romantic (1984)
A Long Time Coming (1985)
By now King was a veteran at the advanced age of 28, and rather at a loss in the post-disco era.
If this desperately edgy electronic effort makes you think of Gladys Knight's more embarrassing
mid-80s outings, it's no coincidence: most tracks were produced by Leon Sylvers III or Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey, each of whom
had previously worked with Knight. (King even sounds like Gladys on "You Can Turn Me On")
Though Sylvers had done some good work with Knight, here he contributes nothing but
relentlessly up-to-date tripe ("Before The Date," with perhaps the stupidest lyrics I've ever heard).
His title track, one of the lamer late 80s attempts to cash in on AIDS fears, somehow went to #3 on the R&B chart.
Kersey contributes the album's
best cut, the techno-ballad "Kisses Don't Lie," which rises nearly to the level of an Angela Winbush outtake.
Weirdest of all is the incredibly mechanical synth workout "Stop It," produced by guitar legend Wah-Wah
Watson, who doesn't play on the track.
Girl Next Door (1989)
I'll Keep A Light On (1995)
Features a remake of "Shame" and an appearance by Larry Graham.
Open Book (2007)
A middling comeback attempt overseen by Preston Glass, who serves up a full platter of updated R&B and dance, all peppered with catchphrases that try a little too hard to be current ("Skillz"; "Creepin'" with a guest rap from Silver Turtle).
(Curiously, "Not That Kinda Party" is direct from the early 90s, from the lyrics to the "Straight Up" beat).
However, in the main the backing tracks sound up to date but not cloyingly so, with some nice touches (sax on "Standing On The Rock Of Love"), and
midtempo numbers like "Whole Lotta Yum Yum" (with soothing vibes) and "Paradise" have the winsome insouciance of King's early days.
Her voice sounds fine (title track, an attempt at a Stephanie Mills-style anthem) but as ever, rarely individual enough to put her stamp on the proceedings and elevate the tunes from the realm of ordinary (the ballad "Nobody Knows"). So as enjoyable as cuts like "True To My Boo" and "The Dance" (a rewrite of "A Deeper Love") are, you kind of have to ask yourself why you're listening to them.
I'm just warming up.