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Here's Esther Are You Ready? / Good Black Is Hard to Crack

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Album Review

With few exceptions, greats who established themselves during soul's golden era were not well served by the disco era, when arrangements and material often poorly suited their abilities. Such was the case with the final two albums by Esther Phillips, Here's Esther...Are You Ready (1979) and Good Black Is Hard to Crack (1981), here combined onto one CD with historical liner notes. As producer Harvey Mason recalls in those notes, he and Phillips had "a mandate from Mercury to mostly do uptempo material" for Here's Esther...Are You Ready, resulting in an album dominated by disco dance tunes as that genre neared the end of its peak popularity. Phillips is still in fine voice, and not averse to injecting the material with a sly playfulness it doesn't always deserve, or which doesn't even always fit its mood. Covers of "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Our Day Will Come" were never going to challenge or redefine the originals, and while a couple ballads made for something a little more up her alley, they weren't strong enough to make a mark. Notable jazz musician Benny Golson took the production reins for Good Black Is Hard to Crack, and while it's not too much of a departure from the previous album, the settings are generally looser and a little more sympathetic. The songs aren't great, but Phillips sounds more at ease with at least some of them, and hits an acceptably engaging soul-jazz groove on "City Lights." There are still some formulaic disco tunes, though, and none of the tracks on this or its predecessor stand among Phillips' finer work, though she retained enough vocal skill to go out with some dignity.


Born: 23 December 1935 in Galveston, TX

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Esther Phillips was perhaps too versatile for her own good, at least commercially speaking; while she was adept at singing blues, early R&B, gritty soul, jazz, straight-up pop, disco, and even country, her record companies often lacked a clear idea of how to market her, which prevented her from reaching as wide an audience as she otherwise might have. An acquired taste for some, Phillips' voice had an idiosyncratic, nasal quality that often earned comparisons to Nina Simone, although she herself...
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Here's Esther Are You Ready? / Good Black Is Hard to Crack, Esther Phillips
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