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Picks and Pans Review: Donna Summer

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Donna Summer

Donna has come a long way since 1975 when she writhed and moaned her way through the disco smash Love to Love You Baby. Making use of the operatic training she had as a teenager, she has proved herself one of the most versatile vocalists in the pop world. Her problem has been one of repertoire selection. Italian synthesizer maestro Giorgio Moroder was her producer for a long time. But when Donna and Giorgio took another collection to David Geffen, president of the eponymous label she’s now signed to, he sent her back into the studio minus Moroder, but with Quincy Jones. This is the nine-song harvest of their efforts. After her experiment with rock on her last album, The Wanderer, she and Jones are now back in the R&B mainstream. In general the bass beat is warmer and her voice is hotter. The pièce de rèsistance is State of Independence, a masterful third-worldish tribal anthem penned by Jon Anderson (formerly with Yes) and Vangelis, Oscar winner for his Chariots of Fire score. Besides Summer’s steamy solo, there is a choir whose roster sounds like an Airport movie: Dyan Cannon, Christopher Cross, James Ingram, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and his wife Peggy Lipton, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Lionel Richie, Brenda Russell, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder. (They are all friends or colleagues of Jones.) The strangest thing on the LP is Summer’s maudlin liner-note dedication to Neil Bogart, the former Casablanca Records president who died recently of cancer. She and Bogart had been locked in a nasty legal battle over her contract when he died, but she sang at his funeral and on the LP writes, “I will always love you.”