Vesta – Vesta Williams (1986)

Vesta album cover
Vesta album cover

Janet Jackson’s Control was a watershed moment in her career and it heavily influenced the sound of everyone else’s, if they were female and trying to edge out a career as a new R&B artist. One of those artist to arrive on the scene made her official debut the same year that Control gave females another icon to emulate (other than Madonna).

Vesta Williams had paid her dues for nearly as long as Janet Jackson when 1986s Vesta was release. Although it was her first album, the Ohio born Williams could be heard on a long list of collaborations with artist as diverse as Chaka Khan to Gordon Lightfoot. In addition to being a sought after studio vocalist, she lent her voice to TV themes and commercials.

Williams was already known for her amazing four octave voice when Vesta came out, but her debut sounded more like outtakes from Control. In fact the albums opener “Something About You” could have been the flip side to any one of Contol’s 7 singles. The upbeat songs in particular were very Jacksonque, while the ballads showcased Williams’ impressive singling voice to stronger effect.

While the album was generally well received, it’s commercial appeal was limited mostly to the American R&B charts where it performed modestly on the strength of “Once Bitten”, Twice Shy”. The second single the more impressive “Don’t Blow a Good Thing” was a hit in England, where Williams easily fell into the “big beautiful black diva” mode, something that enchanted club leaning Europeans (and gay American club goers) during the ‘80s.

The song with its digital percussion and funk influenced syth riffs was one of the few upbeat songs that did not sound like a Jimmy jam and Terry Lewis production (although it would not have been a stretch to imagine it as such). In addition to being one for the first Vesta Williams videos many people had ever seen, it was also in heavy rotation video on BET.

That may explain why an extra track was added to the British editions of Vesta. It might also explain why the album did better on the dance charts than on the R&B chart. Despite being on the same label as Janet Jackson, and having a similar sound, Williams not being groomed as a crossover artist by A&M records, so she never got the chance to reach the all-important Billboard top 40 pop chart.

I guess you can’t blame the team of four producers who were split between the styles Jam/Lewis and Kashif, two of the biggest influences in R&B outside of Prince. The late 80 to early 90 was an interesting period in R&B mostly because hip hop’s influence was not dominant yet.

For great vocalists like Vesta Williams, the difference between Janet Jackson-like crossover success all came down to choosing the right producer(s). In Vesta’s case she covered all the bases of what was in style, but I wish this album would have been a little more consistent and highlighted her wonderful voice more. That of course would come in later releases.

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