Title: Songs for Evolution
Artist: Anglo-Saxon Brown
Label: SoulMusic Records
Format: CD (expanded edition)
Release date: January 22, 2016
David Nathan’s SoulMusic Records frequently targets albums that have yet to be released on CD. Such is the case with Songs for Evolution, the 1976 debut album by Anglo-Saxon Brown—a soul and funk group formed in Richmond, Virginia. Formerly known as Ujima, the group (which included former members of The Manhattans, Sweet Inspirations, and the Harmonizing Four) recorded briefly for Epic in the early ‘70s before their careers stalled.
Soon thereafter they were rediscovered by Philadelphia producer Joe Jefferson, who also brought along his songwriting partner Charles “Charlie Boy” Simmons, to write new material (both were former staff writers for Thom Bell). The band then auditioned for Atlantic’s Jerry Greenberg, who agreed to sign them based in part on the strength of lead singer Debra Henry (now affiliated with Patti LaBelle). Since their old management company laid claim to the name Ujima, they had to decide on a new identity. The name Anglo-Saxon Brown came about after their costume designer heard a demo and asked, “Are they black . . . or are they Anglo-Saxon?” Though as the cover illustrates all members were indeed African American, the name Anglo-Saxon Brown encapsulated their new music which married the Philly sound with a bit of disco, rock guitar, and soul-jazz.
The roster of musicians on Songs for Evolution included lead guitarist Clemente Burnette, lead and rhythm guitarist Anthony Ingram, Carlton Robinson on bass, Debra Henry on lead vocals, plus a horn and rhythm section. There are several highlights on the album. “Call on Me” has almost a Broadway-style veneer, with Henry singing over a jazzy groove (the song was sampled on Action Bronson’s 2001 track “Larry Csonka”). The symphonic disco-jazz-funk “ASB Theme” is primarily an instrumental, segueing between smooth vocal harmonies, a punchy horn section, funk guitar solos, and sections showcasing pianist Dwight Smith. Debra Henry is given an opportunity to shine on the ballad “The Man I Love,” a crowd favorite from the group’s live shows.
Despite follow-up promotional tours, Anglo-Saxon Brown’s new music and name didn’t take off with the public, and ultimately the short-lived project was relegated to a cult collectible, known primarily to soul music aficionados. However, the cross-genre approach marks an interesting chapter in the evolution of R&B music during the disco era of the mid to late 1970s, and now thanks to SoulMusic Records the album is widely accessible.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss