Various Artists: Remixed With Love by Joey Negro Vol. 2
Dave Lee recalibrates an array of tunes from the '70s and '80s in typically tasteful style.
Don’t mess with the classics, we always say. And for good reason: If a song’s already entered the Pantheon of Timeless Tracks, why would a remixer want to bungle what got the tune there in the first place? And besides, far too many would-be gem-polishers think that merely adding a DJ-friendly intro and outro, perhaps along with a beefed-up kick drum for a bit of added oomph, is enough to make the endeavor worth it—or potentially worse, they’ll reshape the song to the point that it loses its original potency, leaving only a sampled slice of a vocal or riff to (hopefully) give listeners the frisson that familiarity can bring. It was not always so—back in days of yore, re-edit pioneers like Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons knew that their role was mainly to take the elements of a song that made it work in the first place—it could be breakdown, a vocal riff, an instrumental passage, or whatever—and simply emphasize it, in the process increasing its power on the dancefloor. Sure, they were working mainly with razor blades and tape and so were limited in what they could do—but still, in essence, they knew that their job was to bring out the inherent drama of the song. There are only a handful of audio-alteration specialists working today who seem to have learned that lesson, and one of them is London’s Dave Lee. Working under his most familiar alias, Joey Negro (he’s got a zillion of them), Lee’s latest compilation of reworks is Remixed With Love by Joey Negro Vol. 2, released on his own Z Records.
Like its 2013 predecessor, the disco- and boogie-heavy compilation—with a few AM Gold nuggets tossed in for good measure—draws its music from the ’70s and early ’80s. Also like that compilation, its a mix-and match affair that boasts revisions of familiar cuts (The O’Jays‘ “I Love Music,” Grace Jones‘s “Pull Up to the Bumper”) along with somewhat more obscure numbers (Pockets’ “Come Go with Me,” for example). For the most part, Lee manages to avoid any enhancement of what some unforgiving sorts—say, single-minded serious-techno lovers—might think of as a sonic gooeyness within some of these songs; if anything, he brings out the beauty of their vocal flourishes, string glissandos and horn-section runs. The best of the bunch come when Lee’s acting as more of a re-editor than full-on remixer. Take the aforementioned “I Love Music”: Working from the original multi-track tape (as he did with all the mixes here), he teases the song apart and reconstructs it, not in the service of creating something “new,” but instead to bring attention to the beauty and power that were already there. Leading off with an array of the song’s best vocal bits (“come on,” “get it on, get it on,” “sweet, sweet music,” et.al.) underlaid only by an organ that’s barely noticeable in the original, the song is a series of builds and breakdowns, with congas, drums, horns, strings, and of course, those glorious harmonies and that iconic chorus weaving their way in and out of the mix. Equally heavenly: Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Taste of Bitter Love,” which sees Lee subtly boosting the innate boogie feel of the track, while reverently leaving its best bits—the horns and strings, the piano riffs and, as with “I Love Music,” those harmonies—largely intact.
Lee rarely makes a misstep, on this compilation or anywhere else—but his take on Christopher Cross‘s “Ride Like the Wind” comes close. Snicker all you want, but the original 1979 release was as dreamy as radio hits get, a exquisitely-produced concoction of congas, pianos, strings and acoustic guitar, propelled by some great conga work. (Fun fact: Cross supposedly wrote the song’s bad-man-on-the-run lyrics while tripping on acid.) But rather than retaining the track’s blissful groove, Lee opts to house it up in somewhat pedestrian style, trading in the original’s gently galloping rhythm for a basic four-to-the-floor feel. Still, those congas manage to keep the beats in the plod-free zone—and a gorgeous song is a gorgeous song, after all. Lee’s take on Gwen Guthrie‘s “Keep the Fire Burning” takes a similar tack, but on a song that was relatively “disco” already, the beefed-up kick works a treat. Better yet is Lee’s rerub of Nicolette Larson‘s “Lotta Love” (itself a remake of a Neil Young tune), which sees Lee taking the mellow-rock gem and accentuating its enchanted vibe with a brilliantly light touch, stripping it down just a bit to bring out it’s deep-seated vibey aura. It’s the kind of remix that takes a lot of taste and a lot of talent—and Lee’s got plenty of both. Granted, many of these songs won’t appeal to everyone—if strings, horns, expressive vocals and flowery melodies are a turn-off, this might a release to avoid. But for everyone else, this compilation is a joy.