Sylvia St. James – 1980 – Magic

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To be honest a few months ago I had no idea who Sylvia St. James was. But my dear friend MsMerising reminded me she was first a member of Side Effect and that she had also released a great album in 1980 called “Magic”. MsM proceeded to than email me several songs that impressed me and of course, I began my odyssey to find the vinyl. Finally (after a few missed shots) I got my hands on it and here it is! I asked MsMerising to write a short bio on Sylvia’s career as well as a review. All writing below (except where noted) is all her own.

This is a @320 vinyl rip of my original Elektra record with covers.

Tracks
A1. Can’t Make You Mine 3.24
A2. Better Things 4.48
A3. Ghetto Lament 5.00
A4. Let Love Groove Me 3.37
B1. Motherland 5.08
B2. Black Diamond 4.22
B3. Magic Minstrel 3.50
B4. So I Say To You 3.22
B5. Almaz Interlude 1.00

Sylvia St. James was born and raised in Waukeegan, Illinois. Later in life she would re-locate to the Los Angeles area and for a year and a half would live in an Ashram. Reflecting on this period Sylvia revealed that “…It was while I was at the Ashram that I got seriously involved with music. It just happened that everyone I lived with was a musician and when the Ashram broke up, I made a conscious decision to be a professional musician and dancer” (1). Not long after Sylvia came under the employ of the  Mike Curb Congregation, which was her first professional foray into the Pop music scene. Sylvia sang back-up vocals both live and on recordings for a myriad of artists such as Connie Francis, the Pointer Sisters, Ronnie Laws, George Duke, Roland Bautista, Willie Bobo & Frank Zappa.

In 1977 she would become the 3rd female vocalist for L.A. based group Side Effect. Sylvia would stay with the band through 2 albums – ‘Goin’ Bananas’ (recorded in 1977 and featuring the rare-groove classic “Private Joy”) and ‘Rainbow Visions’ in 1978.

In 1980 Sylvia cut her debut album for Elektra. Entitled ‘Magic’, the album is unique for an 80’s project due to its thoughtful, conscious approach with lyrics that reflect somewhat mystical leanings. Producers Lenny White (Return To Forever, Twennynine) & Larry Dunn (Earth, Wind & Fire) bring Sylvia’s strong vocal style to the fore and compliment it perfectly with a light jazzy R&B sound, adding flourishes of lushness where needed.

Opening with the sweet boogie bounce of “Can’t Make You Mine” things continue to groove along with the light funk of “Better Things”. Propelled forward by bass, swirling strings, handclaps & the tinker of cowbells it’s a supreme lyrical disco manifesto celebrating empowerment & a hard work ethic atop the beat. Uplifting boogie at it’s best; the applause at the end of the song is deserved.

The celebration of rich, Black legacies was a theme many musicians explored after the gains of the Civil Rights Movement as a way of celebrating positive, black images. Such themes of empowerment are also found on this album with the strongest being “Motherland”. It’s opens with rumbling bass & touches of Eastern-inspired strings to conjure up scenes of majesty. The song aims to paint a sweeping, grandiose picture in awe of the architectural marvels of Ancient Egypt. But behind that awe of that past lays a deep-rooted connection that echoes very much in the present:

“Mother, motherland. I must come back – back to you.
You hold the answer to what I know and feel is true.
Quench my thirst for my past; it’s so vast,
My life relived once more.
Mother, motherland
– Home”.

The albums grand opus arguably is “Ghetto Lament”. Co-penned by the incomparable Weldon Irvine the spoken dialogue between mother & child over a sweet piano solo adds further poignancy to an already moving song that indeed mourns the current state of poverty but holds hope that the future will bring about the changes needed to move people up and out of hardships.

The dreamy harp & string crescendos of “So I Say To You” create a beautifully intimate sonic cocoon. The chord structure will remind serious audiophiles of Don Blackman’s classic “Holding You, Loving You”. Not surprisingly, one scan of the LP’s credits will reveal that Don Blackman composed the track as well as played keyboards throughout the album. One suspects this track is the template for his own classic that would follow two years later.

Sylvia’s second LP for the label ‘Echoes & Images’ which was produced by Andre Fischer followed a more conventional, pop formula. In my opinion it sacrifices Sylvia’s very personal essence & unique vocal tone in an effort to secure hits. But it’s Sylvia’s ear for lyrics rooted in pride and affirmation as well as surrounding herself with stellar musicians that made ‘Magic’ such a jewel of an album. Her spirit rooted in the love-ethic of 1960’s soul, her vocal freedom honed through the jazz-fusion/rock projects in the 1970’s and her overall celebration of all things Divine and beautiful makes ‘Magic’ truly a bewitching slice of vinyl.

DID YOU KNOW?

* Sylvia is the featured vocalist on Family At Max’s 45” on the Sound Odyssey label? The single fetches for no less than $80 amongst collectors.

* Producer Madlib sampled “Ghetto Lament” for Talib Kweli’s “Eat To Live” (‘Eardrum’ 2007).

* Sylvia St. James is an in-demand choir director who has worked with artists diverse as Harry Connick Jnr. to Kanye West.

MsMerising is an addict for fierce, funkin’ females who can sang. A relentless digger & researcher of obscure women artists in rare-groove/funk music she is currently in the embryonic stages of writing a book on the subject. Feel free to join her social network for music addicts at http://dustyfingers.ning.com

(1). Quotes taken from the 1977 press file which can be found at Concordmusicgroup.com

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Conversation for album: Sylvia St. James – 1980 – Magic

36 Comments
  • Messiah of Soul Power Music Group
    Posted at 19:24h, 18 May 2008 Reply

    this sounds very interesing……i’ll be sure to come back and say what i think of this gem. thanks Niko’s and Ms.M

  • Mary
    Posted at 18:21h, 18 May 2008 Reply

    Do not know it but if you say is good, it must be niko.

  • Brandon
    Posted at 19:16h, 18 May 2008 Reply

    thanks a million

  • Ben
    Posted at 20:20h, 18 May 2008 Reply

    Guys this is really amazing stuff. Thanks so much.

  • arkane1
    Posted at 22:56h, 18 May 2008 Reply

    Thanks for this one Nikos. My copy is damaged. Appreciate it a lot! Hope all is well.

  • jim
    Posted at 04:27h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Damn good, although it is the first time i hear about the lady.

  • Mr.Fean
    Posted at 04:46h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Thank you.

  • T.A.
    Posted at 06:01h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    i like the voice. Bravo for the excellent & accurate review!

  • k02
    Posted at 06:18h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    thanks

  • R.M.
    Posted at 07:53h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Great to have you back, nikos. i was worried for a while. Much improved than LIT.

  • catacaldos
    Posted at 11:36h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Wow,great ,great post.Thank you

  • Noa
    Posted at 13:53h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Excellent post, Nikos and Ms.M. Great Work.

  • Vic
    Posted at 15:58h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Thanks for sylvia. any chance posting Bobby Womack’s Fly me to the moon?

  • nikos1109
    Posted at 17:01h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Yes Vic, Why not? Probably in June.

  • soul is the music
    Posted at 17:43h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    This is something i’ve used to have and have been searching for!!!!

  • Lafayette
    Posted at 17:48h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Nikos! Great post! Much better rip than the one we posted back on the old 4BB…I even think I did a re-up of this album (and her album Magic as well) when I did the re-up of the complete Side Effect discography…

    Keep up the splendid work, bro! :¬)

    /Laf

  • nikos1109
    Posted at 18:12h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    Thanks Laf. Didn’t know yoy have posted this. Ms.M told me yesterday. She did fantastic work.

  • Lafayette
    Posted at 19:25h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    That’s totally OK, Nikos…especially since your rips are outstanding as usual! :¬)

    /Laf

  • willjello
    Posted at 21:22h, 19 May 2008 Reply

    thanks for posting this underappreciated gem !

  • Lisa
    Posted at 04:55h, 20 May 2008 Reply

    i am so grateful for such posts. Keep on Soul man.

  • andre
    Posted at 14:15h, 20 May 2008 Reply

    checkin this one out. thank u

  • Laker
    Posted at 15:15h, 20 May 2008 Reply

    i love this site. My education in black music has been going on.

  • jazziej80
    Posted at 04:29h, 21 May 2008 Reply

    Wonderful Review Ms.M, it was very informative. I am definitely going to check out the CD. Keep up the good work both of you.

  • DJ Saft
    Posted at 05:56h, 21 May 2008 Reply

    Yes the review is excellent. And i like sylvia too.

  • Jazzy
    Posted at 08:25h, 21 May 2008 Reply

    My favorite blog. A goldmine. Thank you so much.

  • whatdoyousay
    Posted at 08:52h, 21 May 2008 Reply

    Fantastic work on this post. as always. great to have you back nikos.

  • Groovy Emmanuel
    Posted at 16:43h, 21 May 2008 Reply

    Side Effect was a training school for female singers. All the girls participated in this much effective group had significant music careers, most notably “magic” face/voice Sylvia and Miki Howard, and the beat goes on and on…
    Soul music. It seems to be an endless story…
    Thank u Niko and MsMerising, keep it rising.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 18:43h, 21 May 2008 Reply

    This album is excellent and i never knew it existed, thank you!!!

  • gianni
    Posted at 13:21h, 22 May 2008 Reply

    hey nikos, I like it! thanks again!!!

  • Ryan
    Posted at 05:45h, 23 May 2008 Reply

    I like both side effect and Sylvia.

  • jerome green
    Posted at 17:44h, 26 May 2008 Reply

    Hi Nikos,

    Your digging keeps getting deeper & sweeter. This is definitely a lost gem. Thanks so much for the beautiful music.

    Peace,
    Jerome Green

  • PEDRO
    Posted at 23:45h, 06 June 2008 Reply

    sylvia st james mmmm can,t say i have heard of her but it sounds good thank you nikos

  • soulboy
    Posted at 01:41h, 22 August 2008 Reply

    thank you nikos,another for me to find.

  • jean
    Posted at 04:39h, 30 October 2008 Reply

    a good lp…thx dude

  • brotherpete
    Posted at 10:19h, 30 September 2009 Reply

    super thank you !

  • soti
    Posted at 16:56h, 01 May 2011 Reply

    many thanks niko, nice lp.

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