Norma Jean & Ray J – 1974 – Raising Hell
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Norma Jean & Ray J’s “Raising Hell” is one helluva rare nugget. Released on the Hep-Me label in 1974, this has a remarkably polished sound and sophistication in the music to have warranted bigger names on the front of the album cover. And while Norma Jean and Ray J would never topple the likes of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, they have a crude chemistry that has a magic all of its very own. A wonderful wonderful left-fielder that I urge you to give a few plays for it to reel you in and in love.
a1 Raising hell3.12
a2 This is our love song of life 4.01
a3 Love celebration 3.13
a4 Lay it on my sweet thing 3.19
a5 Everlasting love 3.28
a6 Tell me you love me 2.55
b1 Dream boy dream girl 4.10
b2 We love each other 3.56
b3 Right time wrong place 3.06
b4 Love is what i see 3.35
b5 I’ve taken over 3.41
Review and research by Trakbuv
When Nikos first presented me with the name of the album, my immediate reaction was “Oh wow, Norma Jean Wright and Raymond Jones before they signed up as lead singer and keyboardist, respectively, for the Chic ensemble”. The same duo who later hooked up to form State Of Art, releasing a one-off magical LP entitled “Community” in 1991. WRONG. And in my desperation to find some info on the couple, I thought there may be a link with the popcorn oldie “Call me a fool”. But dating from 1963, with possible associations with the country singer Norma Jean, this may too be a red herring. So with no available information to hand, let us pile into the vinyl without further delay.
The slinky funk of “Raising Hell” kick starts the turntable in mighty fine style. Norma pierces the groove with a lazy drawl while Ray answers with a slightly space-out air. Excellent track with a unique vocal approach. In stark contrast, “This Is Our Song Of Love” is an exceptionally cute and beautifully arranged midtempo gem. Although the lyrics don’t bear close inspection, there is an undeniable charm that rings out both early Peaches & Herb and top 10 R&B. However, this accolade was never to be, probably as much to do with poor promotion as luck. “Love Celebration” sounds kinda familiar and is a lovely, melodic ballad with mild hints of The Independents and a mature inclusion to the set. “Lay It On Me My Sweet Thing” is a great pop song, with a faint resonance of William Bell & Judy Clay’s “Private Number” in the magic. “Everlasting love” is a pleasant bluesy number that shows both the strength and, sadly, the weaknesses of both singers, and a track I can’t say I found successful for those reasons. But endearing nonetheless – probably for those very same reasons. Vocally stronger is “Tell Me You Love Me”, a horn driven shuffler.
“Dream Boy” is a great showcase for their slender vocals, and reminding me again of a great early Peaches & Herb performance and was wisely released as a single. Impressive. The bouncy “We love each other” is a decent stab at the pop charts, again carrying strong reminders of Peaches and Herb and also Mac & Katie Kissoon. The album closes with three of the best tracks on display for me. Ray J gives a fabulous solo performance on Dr John’s “Right Time Wrong Place”, an urgent , rugged delight. The flute-laden “Love Is What I See” is a dreamy rare groover that delivers excellent together performances with a hint of Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo and The Fifth Dimension. Gorgeous. And we finish with Norma Jean’s finest moment on her solo effort “I’ve Taken Over”, a classy Northern Soul stomper that is pure class from start to finish, and a much sought after 45 fetching silly money in its own right.
There is a wonderfully raw, almost naive sound to the vocals, with some tracks sounding like they were captured in one take. However, on listening and exploring their music, it really is fesses up an enchantment that will have you spellbound.
On a sad note, I am sorry to report that the aforementioned Raymond Jones (ex-Chic) died on July 11th 2011. I am blessed to own the “State Of Art – Community”, “Do The Right Thing OST”, and his wonderful solo “Naked Soul” CDs as a demonstration of how important he was to me as an artist. His ability to write enigmatic, captivating tunes was second to none, and he was still very active in writing and producing music for the film industry. A biography can be found here (http://www.uegmusic.com/rjbio.htm)
The vinyl is a collector’s item and very difficult to be found.