STEVIE WONDER Talking Book (Tamla)
Somehow Diverse's magic vinyl divining stick has managed to locate a stack of pristine, sealed, pre-barcode American pressings of arguably the most sparkling jewel in Steveland Morris' glittering back catalogue. And yes, this pressing of "Talking Book" sounds good enough to negate the need for Simply Vinyl's apparently perpetually delayed and pricier reissue. But it's the music that matters most, and whilst he arguably went on to greater commercial heights with "Innervisions" and the gargantuan "Songs In The Key Of Life", "Talking Book" has a restraint, harmony and balance that often seems lacking in those more celebrated works. There's none of the jazz and theatrical diversions that saps "Innervisions" of its coherence, and the sprawl that can make "Songs In The Key Of Life" almost too much of a wonderful thing is happily reined in here.
What "Talking Book" possesses in abundance is fabulous songwriting and relaxed, languid musicianship. You'll know "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" already (and prepare to be shocked anew as you argue with your memories on discovering that Stevie doesn't start singing until the third line) and "Superstition" (masterblasting funk, as tight as James Brown ever got), but perhaps not the wailing anti-government protest folk of "Big Brother". Similarly "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)" is familiar through numerous cover versions, but I can't remember Art Garfunkel's take swinging with such religious devotion as the original. In the famous name stakes Jeff Beck drips honeyed guitar over the slow-motion seduction of "Lookin' For Another Pure Love" and a very pre-"Ghostbusters" Ray Parker, Jr boogies with his bad self on the nasty, strutting "Maybe Your Baby". But wouldn't you know it, "Talking Book" is really Stevie's show, and Stevie's only, writing, playing and producing the vast majority of what's in these grooves. And you can't help but be knocked out by the man's monumental talent all over again.