A Taste Of Honey
Reviewed on this page:
A Taste Of Honey - Another Taste - Twice As Sweet -
Ladies Of The Eighties - One Taste Of Honey - Hiatus Of The Heart
Just what you've all been waiting for: a comprehensive career review of a two-hit wonder best known scornfully for winning the Best New Artist Grammy in 1979. Only at Wilson & Alroy's, ladies and gentlemen.
But this dance/funk foursome was better than most of the disco they've been lumped with.
Lead singer/bassist Janice Marie Johnson and lead singer/guitarist Hazel P. Payne were both fine instrumentalists (though they didn't get much room to shine after their first release), and showed flair if not innovation as composers.
Payne and Johnson split up decades ago, and each now fronts her own Taste Of Honey lineup:
you can keep up with Johnson's and Payne's doings on their respective websites. (DBW)
Janice-Marie Johnson, bass, vocals; Hazel P. Payne, guitar, vocals; Perry Kibble, keyboards; Donald Johnson, drums. Kibble and Donald Johnson left, 1980. Group broke up, circa 1982. Johnson revived the group in 1996 with Suzanne Thomas on guitar, and Payne started up Hazel Payne's Taste Of Honey (full lineup unknown) thereafter.
A Taste Of Honey (1978)
Lead singer/guitarist Hazel Payne stretches from funk scratches to jazzy solos ("World Spin") to
distorted rock leads. Lead singer/bassist Janice Marie Johnson plays tastefully, unlike most of the slap-and-pop funkateers, but she does innovate with swooping glissandi on the low-key, funky "Distant," and her lush,
throaty vocals arouse interest. Drummer Donald Johnson keeps
a solid groove; keyboardist Perry Kibble doesn't play much but did cowrite the #1 hit single "Boogie Oogie Oogie" (with Janice, whose pumping bass line made the record). Packed with clever
arranging details and tossed-off licks; not as lowdown as the
decade's best funk, or as gorgeous as the decade's best pop, but an outstanding combination of the two.
On the down side, the record's a bit impersonal, with no horns, lead synths or anything else to add variety, and there are some
horrendous tunes (the mindless "Disco Dancin'," the mawkish "This Love Of Ours" by Janice Johnson and Payne). Produced by Fonce Mizell and Larry Mizell.
Another Taste (1979)
This followup flopped right from the leadoff single "Do It Good," but really it's not half-bad. Again, Mizell and Mizell produce, the band members write the songs, and Johnson and Payne share lead vocals (the lilting, Rushenesque "I Love You"). The uptempo disco has solid hooks ("Race"; "Dance") and the love songs are lean and tuneful (Payne's "The Rainbow's End").
On the other hand, you could say the lyrics lack sophistication ("Take The Boogae Or Leave It"), some of the love songs drag, and as with the debut, there's not much instrumental variety apart from the string coda on "Your Love."
If you're interested enough to look for the record, you'll be glad you found it.
Twice As Sweet (1980)
Donald Johnson and Kibble were out of the band, George Duke produced, and the sound is far less varied, with generic horn arrangements piled on everything ("Ain't Nothin' But A Party"). The songwriting as well lacks imagination (the weak Sister Sledge knockoff "She's A Dancer"; the cookie-cutter kissoff "Good-Bye Baby").
But there's some decent stuff:
"I'm Talkin' 'Bout You" revives the walking bass of "Boogie"; "Rescue Me" is nice midtempo dance, and "Say That You'll Stay" opens with a mesmerizing slow funk groove.
And the tender, stripped-down cover of Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 "Sukiyaki" became a Top Ten hit, the group's last.
Johnson sings all the leads apart from Payne's "Superstar Superman," a bouncy ode to a famous bass player (no, I don't know
Ladies Of The Eighties (1982)
Mostly produced and co-written by Earth, Wind & Fire guitarist Al McKay, and unfortunately he goes crazy with gimmicky synth bass on the uptempo tracks ("We've Got The Groove"), so Johnson hardly gets to play anything. He was also heavily involved with the writing, but his work is trivial and trite, both love songs ("Never Go Wrong") and party tunes ("Diamond Real").
A cover of Smokey Robinson's "I'll Try Something New" was a single; Johnson does an impressive Robinson impression, but doesn't personalize the tune.
As with the previous album, Payne gets one composition and lead vocal, and makes the most of it on the fun, uncomplicated funk tune "Lies."
Two tracks were produced by Commodores bassist Ronald LaPread with Johnson and Payne ("Midnight Snack," which does sound like the Commodores in funk mode).
The closing "Leavin' Tomorrow" proved to be prophetic, as the album was the duo's last.
One Taste Of Honey (Janice Marie Johnson: 1984)
Produced and largely written by Mike Piccirillo and Gary Goetzman, and they dive into the Minneapolis Sound with one crashing, synth-driven dance track after another ("Baby Sister"; "Last Chance Baby"). There's one ballad, "Love Me Tonight," on which Johnson revives her Smokey impression.
Paradoxically, that's as close as she comes to showing individuality: everything else is completely faceless, though she did co-wrote several tunes including "Back With My Boogie"; there's also a cover of the Jackson 5 hit "I'll Be There."
It makes you wonder why Johnson felt it was necessary to release a solo project: if you wanted to hear her, wouldn't you want to actually hear her, rather than someone trying to sound like everything else on the radio?
Hiatus Of The Heart (Janice-Marie: 1999)
Johnson's comeback is essentially in a Brenda Russell vein: R&B flavored pop, carefully
arranged, with aspirations toward sophistication. In order to pull it off the way Russell does, you have to overcome the
inherent lack of spontaneity with unerring melodicism and taste, and Johnson's not quite up to the challenge... a smoking
live band might have pulled off a tune like "2 The Rhythm We Dance," but with programmed drums and keyboards (her bass is
rarely in evidence) it sounds flat and rote.
The lyrics are well intentioned but mostly obvious (the lite reggae "Love Is The Only Thing That Matters"), and while her vocals are
pleasant (including an upper range that recalls Philip Bailey on the title track) they aren't
A Latinized remake of ATOH's biggest hit ("Vamos A Boogie Oogie Oogie") was a good idea, but doesn't go far enough: there's
some percussion on top (courtesy of W&A patron saint Paulinho Da Costa) and some
phrases are translated, but a real reworking of the tune with salsa piano and clavé rhythm would've been much more
fun. Produced by Johnson and David Cochrane, who also played many of the backing tracks and co-wrote half the tunes.
Until The Eagle Falls (Janice-Marie: 2001)
An EP featuring three versions of the title track, with Robert Tree Cody. (DBW)