After the dissolution of The Time when Morris Day left, Prince built a new band in 1985 consisting of former Time members Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton and Paul Peterson, plus saxophonist extraordinaire Eric Leeds and vocalist (and twin sister of the Revolution’s Wendy) Susannah Melvoin. Peterson was rechristened St. Paul and established as the front man of the group, named The Family, sharing lead vocals with Melvoin. 26 years after its release, their self titled debut remains one of the best albums to be released on Prince’s now defunct Paisley Park Records label.
However, much like with The Time’s first two records, ‘The Family’ was essentially a Prince album with special guests. Prince wrote (with the exception of one song), produced and performed the entire album, then had Peterson and Melvoin record their vocals, replacing the guide vocals present on Prince’s demos that are widely circulating amongst fans. Leeds’ saxophone and flute work was also added to the mix, as was Clare Fischer’s orchestra.
The album produced one minor hit in “The Screams Of Passion”, though it is probably better remembered as the first place Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” was released, long before Sinead O’Connor’s massive hit cover version. Peterson decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career after Prince lost interest in the project, a move that didn’t exactly sit well with his former boss.
Now, all these years later, The Family (minus Benton) have returned, albeit under a new moniker. Although both Peterson and Melvoin reached out to him, Prince was not open to the idea of them using the group’s original name, not even in the album title, and instead of a long, drawn out legal battle that they simply wouldn’t have been able to afford, the group decided on the name fDeluxe. To be honest, it’s for the best. They may as well make a clean break and start a new chapter for themselves.
That brings us to “Gaslight”, and it is a high compliment when I say it is exactly what you would hope an album by The Family in 2011 would sound like. fDeluxe have captured the feel of that first album, but have avoided recreating it or sounding dated. This is a refreshing, modern mix of funk, soul and jazz, with a nod to the Minneapolis Sound they all played a part in.
fDeluxe are at their best on “Gaslight” when they are bringing their brand of funk, and the first half of the album contains a number of strong tracks in this vein starting with opener “Drummers And Healers”. With greasy guitar licks, Leeds’ sax perfection and Peterson’s catchy falsetto chorus, it’s a perfect reintroduction to what this band is about. Melvoin takes the spotlight on the title track, another song that utilizes Eric Leeds’ sax lines flawlessly. “@8” has the slinkiest, sexiest groove here. If a single were to be pulled from the album, this would be my choice.
Another highlight is the laid back “Over The Canyon”, a duet between Peterson and Melvoin with a memorable sax line by Leeds. It’s a sweet mix of jazzy, atmospheric soul. Eric Leeds takes center stage on the appropriately titled “Leeds Line”, and may I just say this guy is an absolute master of the saxophone. Especially when utilized in a funk, soul or fusion setting, few are better than Mr. Madhouse.
Where “Gaslight” tends to falter a bit is in the slower numbers. The sparse “When You Go” seems like an attempt to recapture the magic of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, and although the melody is lovely, it only half succeeds. Lush, sensuous tracks like “Beautiful You” and “The Vigil” are serviceable, but tend to slow down the second half of the album a bit too much. “Lover” stands out as the best ballad here.
Overall , “Gaslight” is a triumphant and welcome return for fDeluxe. Acts like the former Family and The Time are in a completely different category from a large portion of former Prince associates. These are bands filled with talented musicians in their own right, fully capable of stepping out of his purple shadow and laying claim to their roles in the legacy of the Minneapolis Sound. Consider “Gaslight” a success in achieving just that.
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