Think of it as an L.A. soul album about God.
From archival reissues to contemporary explorers, Forced Exposure is one of the premiere distributors of international folk music and avant-garde experimental sounds. Yet a summer release from the reissue label Favorite Recordings adds an unexpected genre to its purview: born-again soul. Contrary to the label’s press notes, there really isn’t anything uncommercial about its reissue of Googie and Tom Coppola’s Shine the Light of Love. It would have fit right in on any ‘80s American R&B station worth its salt.
Carolyn Brooks (aka Googie) and Thomas Wilkinson Coppola met in the ‘60s and first recorded as part of the group Air (not to be confused with the French electronic duo or the Henry Threadgill-led jazz trio). In 1971, Air released a solid jazz-rock album on Herbie Mann’s Embryo label that was recently reissued by Be With Records. By the time the Coppolas released Shine the Light of Love in 1980, the couple had become born-again Christian. If the resulting music is a bit less brooding than their album for Herbie Mann, its inspirational quiet storm is a logical and solid progression.
Opening with the soulful up-tempo title cut, Googie Coppola’s high-pitched voice may make you think you’ve stumbled on some unknown Jacksons album. With lush production values and a dense arrangement including a soulful string section, horns and electric keyboards, it’s a track that obviously took great care to assemble, but it has an effortless, celebratory sound.
Googie’s voice sometimes strains here in a way that it didn’t on the earlier Air album, reaching for a higher register in much the way she and her husband reached for a higher power. The musical struggle may not be perfect, but it’s perhaps a touching metaphor for a spiritual struggle. Her timbre suggests Minnie Ripperton without the wild flights of fancy heard in her work with Rotary Connection and other Charles Stepney-produced projects.
Shine the Light of Love is programmed not unlike a typical soul album of the era, varying up-tempo tracks with ballads. Think of it as an L.A. soul album about God, the ballad “Broken Wings” describing a fallen angel who finds healing. The mid-tempo “Nothing in This World” seems an affirmation of both the Coppolas partnership and their faith: “Nothing in this world/ Can separate us now.”
In the context of the Coppola’s conversion, track titles like “Everything is Coming to the Light” might make you suspect this is a straight-up gospel album, but the session musicians and arrangements make it a bright and catchy soul album. One of the best cuts is the mid-tempo “Missing Love,” whose lyrics again walk a line between romance and religion: “Time tells all/ Whose broken heart is next to fall.” “Joyous Flame” directly addresses the latter: “Born again/ It’s you I thank/ With your love/ I’m gonna praise your name.” The sentiments may be old news to both R&B and gospel charts, but from light funk to smooth ballads, the arrangements win you over.
Shine the Light of Love was originally released on Columbia Records, but met a similar fate as Ned Doheny’s 1976 blue-eyed soul classic Hard Candy (another one reissued by Be With Records): it disappeared due to lack of promotion. Favorite Recordings has specialized in archival yacht rock, and this light soul album is one of its best releases.