From 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.