Minnie Riperton's fine debut album is proof enough that the arrival of a new singer-songwriter on a crowded scene need hardly be another bore. Though Wonderlove arranged the tunes and Stevie himself has added two songs and a lot of back-up work, Minnie's high, breezy voice remains the undisputed center of the sound.
Appetite is the word to describe the cool urgency of Minnie's singing; though it's a fastidious appetite that makes the progress of a tune more like an elaborate meal than the usual subs-and-soda routine one's grown to expect from the pop menu. Rarely are words so perfect a vehicle for vocal improvisation: each phrase receives a special tone, a special accent suited to its place in the lucid wheel of the lyrics. Discrimination abounds, especially between "desire" and what makes Minnie's "spirit higher": a reactionary distinction in one sense, to be sure, but a welcome one in song because it tempers the impulse to throw wet kisses, to seduce with sexual thrill alone (like Sylvia or old Millie Small) and throw musical emotion aside. Sure, Minnie makes you sigh, but she makes you swell too, the way a fine horn solo leaves you rounded and complete.
The settings are hard to define, fluid mixtures of soul and folk, of driving rhythms and pearly ballads. Minnie and Richard Rudolph write real melodies, not riffs masquerading as tunes or offhand phrases sewn together and called songs. Light Wonder grooves like "Edge of a Dream" and "Every Time He Comes Around," which fall midway between the rocking tempo of "Reasons" and the hush of "Lovin' You," are the album's fullest cuts.
The band is perhaps too discreet (with the exception of Marlo Henderson's snappy but repetitive guitar), though Stevie's keyboards and harp are, as always, magnetic.
Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, July 16, 1974