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Music Review: B.T. Express – ‘Keep It Up’

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BT Express Keep It UpFrom 1974-1980, Brooklyn-based funk outfit B.T. Express churned out a healthy batch of top 20 R&B singles, club hits, and full-length albums. Beginning with the seminal rump shaker “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied),” the group—whose revolving line-up included the likes of vocalist Barbara Joyce, future super producer Kashif, and drummer Leslie Ming—enticed listeners with kinetic calls to “Give It What You Got,” “Shout It Out,” and “Give up the Funk.” Their commercial steam began to wane by the dawning of the ’80s; but that didn’t stop them from recording a handful more of potent grooves.

Out of the latter era, Funky Town Grooves USA has dusted off B.T.’s final long player for a surprising CD reissue. 1982’s Keep It Up, originally released on the short-lived CBS imprint Coast to Coast, introduced several new members to the band’s lineup. Tyrone “Turkey” Govane assumed drumming duties; Gene Ghee pitched in on sax and flute, and William Robinson took over as primary lead vocalist. With Glen Kolotkin in the producer’s chair, the skillful septet came up with a seven-track collection that strived to merge the gritty feel of their first hits (e.g.,”Express”) with the Chic-ified sway of subsequent singles like “Does It Feel Good.” The resulting delivery is consistently funky, for the most part.

The opener, “This Must Be the Night for Love,” is an atmospheric jam replete with magical keyboard swirls, a kickin’ bassline, and saucy guitar lines painting the perfect canvas for the alternating falsetto and bass vocal leads of William Robinson and Jamal Rasool. ‘Tis a real pity that Coast to Coast passed on this bona fide gem as a stateside single release. However, the enrapturing melody and seamlessly ingraining disco arrangement of “Star Child (Spirit of the Night)” got a chance to shine as the album’s second single release. On the heels of the straightforward funk of the title track, “Star Child” displayed the band’s active flexibility amidst the often pigeonholing trends of radio. They merge the divergent worlds of clubland and FM airwaves further on “Just Can’t Stop Dancin’,” a snappy number which makes reference to previous hits amongst well-devised vocal harmony and piano fills.

The only quotient that occasionally gets lost in the mix of Keep It Up is the pulse of the early ’80s. In its effort to satisfy both the funk freaks and the disco denizens, the group ends up sounding a bit dated on the closing “Let Yourself Go.” Similarly, the doo-wop-styled ballad “It’s Got to Be You” is artfully crafted, but comes across as inconsequential in the surrounding dance context. These, though, are minor points in an otherwise bodily fulfilling, melodically sustaining cumulation of sound. Despite not scoring any charting singles from the record, the album itself reached the upper half of Billboard‘s Top R&B Albums chart—proving the group was just as vital with longtime fans a decade into its career. Now, 30 years down the track, this finely remastered CD issue might just bring aboard some new passengers.

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About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via