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Return To Magenta
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  • The follow-up to Mink DeVille's critically praised debut arrived just a year afterward and pretty much covers the same shadowy back alleys as its predecessor. At this early stage, Willy DeVille was still rocking out on Moon Martin's "Rolene," his own R&B chugger "Soul Twist," the Bo Diddley driven "Steady Drivin' Man" and the too brief set closer "Confidence to Kill," the latter ripping off as much greasy punk attitude as anything in his catalog, all in less than two minutes. But it's the soaring ballads and retro doo wop infused urban slow dance gems that make this sleeper a keeper. It takes nerve to open an album with the ominous heartbeat of "Guardian Angel" with its Righteous Brothers vibe enhanced by strings and a brooding Phil Spector "Be My Baby" dramatic, thumping drum pattern. Yet it perfectly foreshadows and adjusts the lights for Willy and the boys' N.Y.C./New Jersey street savvy pop/rock. Producer Jack Nitzsche, returning from the first album, was the perfect foil for the band, keeping the sound lean, mean, raw when necessary, and colored in shades of well, magenta. The legendary Doc Pomus, a guy who knew how important it was to match a good tune with a great singer, writes short but sweet liner notes that anticipate his co-writing contributions to the following album, 1980's Le Chat Bleu. Frontman DeVille is a natural singer as adept at grinding out the rockers as delving into the emotionally burning slow songs such as "I Broke That Promise" that would ultimately define his persona. He's clearly a man out of time, more comfortable with the '50s than the decades after, but never self-consciously retro. The album's only Nitzsche co-write is "Just Your Friends." It's a churning, charming inner city lament with a cascading melody that makes it a lost gem; one of those hidden tracks that never makes it on a greatest-hits collection but helps define this set. The ten tunes are over in 32 minutes but there isn't a wasted note or tossed off track, which makes Return to Magenta (the title is oddly absent from the cover) a somewhat difficult to find yet essential addition to any Willy DeVille collection. ~ Hal Horowitz
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