Clarence Smith’s Stellar Tunes

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An Essence magazine co-founder, Clarence Smith, now CEO of YOU Entertainment, along with producers Duke Jones and the legendary Norman Connors, is the guiding force behind one of this years' most refreshingly musical, star-studded collections in Love Pages. “The goal is to bring back quality music.

Music that engages people emotionally, intellectually and spiritually" says Smith. A conceptual album by a collective aptly named The Café Soul All-Stars,  Smith feels it fills a definite void in the musical marketplace. "Like many others, I love and appreciate two seminal eras in American music: Jazz and R&B,â€? he says.
“Both have had a profound impact on my musical tastes and they've also greatly influenced my sense of what constitutes great songwriting and musicianship.  For me, the idea behind the Love Pages project was simple, create an environment that allows great players and singers who share a similar reverence for the musical traditions I've always held dear to showcase their talents on one fantastic CD."

The story behind Love Pages is a fascinating one. It dates back to the New Orleans-based Essence Music Festival of 2000. Smith, on a musical high from the event, enlisted musician/producer and friend, Duke Jones to recruit a band from the festival to play on a cruise ship he was chartering for a trip from New Orleans to Mexico.

Having listened back to the nightly sessions they recorded on the ship, both Smith and Duke realized that this simply had to be heard by the masses.  Duke, who has been a staple in many classic R&B bands from the 70's onwards, was given the enviable task of assembling a line up that would bring the band's name and album concept to life. 

He responded by enlisting some of the most respected names in both jazz and R&B; George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Glenn Jones, Vesta, Christopher Williams, Jon Lucien, Maysa (of Incognito fame) not to mention the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section among the many noted musicians.

He also summoned up long time friend and fellow musician/producer Norman Connors (who discovered R&B legends Phyllis Hyman and Jean Carne), in whose band Duke had been a mainstay for many years, to help steer the ship.  Love Pages is anchored by the Café Soul All-Stars, comprised of an equally stellar cast of renowned session musicians; Duke Jones - trumpet, Chris Albert - trumpet,  Bobby Lyles - keyboards,  Kaspar Galli - guitar, Steve Williams - drums, Rene McLean - sax and Alex Blake - bass. 

The end result is a riveting collection of songs that segues effortlessly from radio friendly, soulful R&B jams such as the first single, "What You Gonna Do" featuring Glenn Jones and "Used To Be" featuring Christopher Williams to Vesta's heartfelt vocals on the superlative, "One More Bridge To Cross." 

New offerings from Peabo Bryson (his powerful delivery on "Don't Make Me Cry" is a standout) and George Benson (singing the melancholic title track) remind us why they remain two of the most important names in the last quarter-century of urban music. Round this out with the sensual sound of  Café Soul All-Stars own  Bobby Lyle's  and the steamy fusion brew, "Urban Jungle" (featuring Roy Ayers and Kenny Garrett)  and it should be readily apparent why Love Pages is destined to become a staple in every true R&B lover's collection.

The end result is a CD that brims with the best there is in Soul and Jazz, allowing musical connoisseurs and casual fans the chance to revel in legendary names performing new material that will remain, like their older works, timeless.

Asked how he made the transition from magazine publisher to record executive Smith is pragmatic:  "I believe there's a huge, untapped market for music whose appeal focuses on consumers who are 25 and over. 

I started YOU Entertainment, in part, as a vehicle to address this need because I believe the success of contemporary artists whose appeal fits this profile like Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott and Kem, to name a few, is not accidental. 

Although the medium is different, Essence was created with a similar fundamental belief:  that high-quality content targeted towards an underserved and upwardly mobile consumer-base would resonate. 

I believe YOU Entertainment's timing is perfect to fill that void in the market."  Duke Jones concurs, while offering a further take on the project's origins: "We called our collective Café Soul, because in most cultures, a café is typically a destination point that allows diverse people to come together, relax, and immerse themselves in music, without fear of conforming to commercial stereotypes or restrictions. 

This is the conceptual vibe we sought to create and thankfully Clarence Smith gave us the green light to do that.  Hopefully, listeners will appreciate the quality and sense of musical freedom that makes this album what it is.  It was an incredible environment in which to create and be creative." 

Love Pages is just the beginning. Future offerings from YOU Entertainment include the U.S. debut of Brazilian singing sensation Fernanda Noronha and three compilations, Soul of Brazil, Cool Brazil and Soul of Africa that each feature new, never-before released material and old-school classics. The Soul of  series will cover various musical genre's from around the world.

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