The impetus, Leon says, is MOON RIDE, his debut album for Stax/Concord Records. The twelve songs that comprise the Ware-produced collection of new material easily validates Leon’s stance as a true master of musical sensuality. In the tradition of his previous recordings and work with others, songs on the new album like “Just Take Your Time,” “Hold Tonight” and “Smoovin’” are love-filled odes, a heady mix fantasy and reality.
While MOON RIDE demands to be heard in its entirety as a potent, cohesive piece of work, key cuts include the hypnotically evocative “Loceans,” a song Detroit-born Leon says was designed “to create atmosphere, allure…a reminder of an unforgettable personal moment you may have had with another. It’s an expression of my romantic lust for life.” Likewise, the acoustic-flavored “From Inside” has all the trappings of a modern-day slow jam classic: “90% of my work has multiple meanings, especially where sex is concerned. I love double entendre! Someone’s inner self, inside, is what matters to me – it’s not the surface impression that really makes a person who they are. As a child, I was actually blind for two years and when my vision returned, I realized it was about looking inside people, not at them,” Leon smiles, clear that the song’s title alone begs another, more obvious interpretation much as his classic “Inside My Love” did back in the ‘70s when recorded by the late Minnie Riperton.
The album’s title cut has the kind of insistent groove that has endeared Leon to soul music lovers worldwide, particularly in the UK where he has created the kind of near-legendary status usually accorded superstars like Gaye and Donny Hathaway, two of the hundreds of artists who have made Leon’s song catalog rich with time-honored compositions like “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” “Body Heat” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are.” The equally funky “Blue Dress” segues into the late night yearning of “Hold Tonight” while further into the album, “Smoovin’” is as contemporary in spirit as tunes like “Sumthin’ Sumthin,’” a Ware 1996 collaboration that became neo-soul singer Maxwell’s virtual signature theme.
The Gaye-shaded “I Never Loved So Much,” penned with John Barnes (known for his work with Michael Jackson among others) was, Leon notes, “written ALMOST twenty years ago. Oddly enough, it’s a song I never showed anyone. There are about six or seven songs in my life as a writer that I didn’t want to record. This was one of them.” Then, “Urban Nights” (at one time considered as a possible title track for the album) is a descriptive, percussive delight while “To Serve You (All My Love)” was inspired during a visit to South Africa is an homage to old school R&B: “I love going back musically while mixing the elements so there’s a new attitude in there too,” Leon says, noting that “A Whisper Away” is a cut that “exhibits my jazz feel. For many years, people have asked ‘is he an R&B artist or a jazz artist?’ I think of myself as a servant, here to serve the people with my music.”
His first major label album in over two decades, MOON RIDE represents the culmination of a very active period in Leon’s career. Since 1995, Leon has been writing, producing and recording as an independent artist with four albums to his credit – the R&B-flavored “Taste The Love”; the 2001 set “Candelight” recorded with jazz keyboardist Don Grusin; the passion-charged “Love’s Drippin,’” a 2003 release; and 2004’s Brazilian-themed “A Kiss In The Sand.” During the last decade, he’s been a frequent visitor to the UK where his sold-out concerts at London’s Jazz Café before an adoring audience (singing along with almost his entire repertoire) are legendary; U.S. performances at New York’s Blue Note and the Temple Bar in Los Angeles have only served to heighten interest in Leon’s musical catalog as an artist, writer and producer.
As a native of Detroit, Leon found himself writing for artists such as Martha & the Vandellas and Isley Brothers at Motown in the mid-’60s. A collaboration with Ike & Tina Turner for a United Artists album led to Leon’s own first solo venture for that label in 1972, recorded while he was continuing to write hits for other Motown acts such as The Jackson Five and a solo Michael Jackson, for whom he penned the hit single, “I Wanna Be Where You Are.” In 1974, Leon contributed the now-standard “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” as well as the title track to Quincy Jones’ breakthrough album “Body Heat”; a year later, he was celebrating more success with “Rolling Down A Mountainside,” a hit for R&B group The Main Ingredient and with Minnie Riperton via “Inside My Love.”
Leon began working on two projects at Motown in 1976, including a solo project; when label founder Berry Gordy Jr. heard the song “I Want You,” he wanted it recorded by Marvin Gaye. Subsequently, Leon produced Gaye’s entire album of the same name, achieving tremendous success on the pop and R&B charts. His own “Musical Massage” LP was issued by Motown later that year and regarded as a groundbreaking album, considered ahead of its time, it was reissued in 2003 to much critical acclaim.
Continuing to have his songs covered by plethora of artists (including Bobby Womack, Melissa Manchester, Sergio Mendes, Nancy Wilson, Isaac Hayes among others), Leon had his third LP release (“Inside Is Love”) in 1979 before completing two album for Elektra, “Rockin’ You Eternally” (whose title track is a bonafide soul classic in Europe and beyond) and a 1982 self-titled set.
Throughout the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Leon’s music was discovered by a whole new generation of young artists leading to creative samplings of his songs with the likes of Ice Cube, Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest; and other samples by Montell Jordan, Aaliyah, EPMD and Prince and more recently Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, John Legend & Jennifer Lopez, among others. After recording his last four albums (all also released overseas by popular demand), Leon began meeting with executives at Stax/Concord in 2006 with an initial idea for doing a compilation of his work but after hearing some of the new material he was writing, the project evolved into MOON RIDE spurred on specifically by the song “Loceans.”
Buoyed by the label’s enthusiasm for his new work, Leon took time to complete the album, noting, “It’s never taken me so long to work on a record – two years in all! But I definitely consider it one of my best efforts ever and I’m looking forward to as many people as possible hearing it.” For the many music lovers who have followed his career over the years, Leon is more than grateful: “It’s staggering when I stop and think about how my music has touched people from all walks of life and that the sentiments in my songs are considered timeless. I think of my music as a house that has a home everywhere.”
Certainly, with MOON RIDE – an album that reflects his joy for love and life – Leon Ware can be justifiably proud that, this time out, his special brand of smooth sensuality and provocative passion will be reaching audiences both old and new: “I really feel as if this is the first time in my entire career when a record I’ve made has the potential to be fully exposed and promoted by a record company. I look forward to this album realizing what the others haven’t. I’m excited, I feel good and I’m ready to really get out there as a recording artist and performer in a whole new way.”