Dee Warwick, 1945-2003, was the sister of Dionne Warwick, the niece of Cissy Houston, and the cousin of Whitney Houston. She produced a more gritty sound than her three more famous family members but came close to them in terms of talent, if not commercial success.
She began her career in the late 1950’s as a member of the Gospelaires with Cissy and Dionne and then spent the first half of the next decade as an in demand session singer. By the mid-1960’s, she was on her own and over the course of the next decade, she would produce 10 rhythm & blues chart hits, have seven singles reach the pop charts, and receive two Grammy nominations.
Her time with the Atco label during the early 1970’s was brief and a bit unusual. Despite extensive time spent in the recording studio, only one album was released. Real Gone Music has now gathered all 35 of her Atco tracks and released them under the appropriate title, The Complete Atco Recordings.
Her time spent with the label was not the most fruitful period of her career. Atlantic/Atco had such premier artists like Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack under contract and they received the label’s priority. Second echelon artists like Warwick tended to suffer. This lead to an inconsistency of material and recording dates, not to mention a lack of publicity. Still, when you dig into her catalogue, there are a number of excellent performances.
She was primarily a cover artist but her only co-written original ”The Way We Used To Do” is one of the better tracks. It appears as both a previously unreleased demo and a finished smooth soul song. “What Manner Of Man” and “You Tore My Wall Down” are from the same session and both place the emphasis on her soulful voice.
The centerpiece of her only album release is “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking),” which is a funky story of infidelity and was a successful single release. At the other end of the scale are covers of such songs as Charlie Rich’s “Who Will The Next Fool Be” and Jimmy Webb’s “If This Was The Last Song,” which take her out of her comfort zone.
Two other tracks rank among her best work for the label. She charges through an up-tempo version of “Cold Night In Georgia” and then delivers a slow funky version of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”
The 12 previously unreleased tracks add little to the overall quality of the release other than some historical interest if you are a fan of Warwick’s. Many times tracks remained unreleased for a reason.
Good news is the sound quality. Her material in the past has had an uneven nature to the sound but that has been corrected as it is now clear and clean. The accompanying booklet provides a good biography of Warwick and her time with the label.
Dee Dee Warwick is one of those artists who rarely come to mind when exploring soul music of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Complete Atco Recordings provides a nice look into her career. It may not all be great but there are places which are equal to some of the best s