A soulful keyboard maestro – served up here on four 80s albums for Columbia Records! First up is Learning To Love – a set in which Rodney Franklin adds in just a bit more vocals to his music than before, but still holding onto all the best keyboard strengths of the past! Franklin was really one of the leading lights of the Columbia Records jazz scene of the time – an exceptionally strong artist, and very much his own spirit – yet sadly not as remembered these days as contemporaries like Lonnie Liston Smith or Herbie Hancock. Yet Rodney's got all the range of both of those artists – the same ability to mix jazz, funk, fusion, and soul – the last of which he does here wonderfully, with help from singers Jim Gilstrap, Howard Smith, and Darryl Phinnessee. Yet at the heart of all the tracks are Rodney's nice soulful keyboards – which have the same smooth feel as Bobby Lyle's from the same time – and the same ability to blend wonderfully with lyrics and other instrumentation. The record was produced by Stanley Clarke
– and titles include the great "Enuff Is Enuff" – the theme from the early 80s blacksploitation flick One Down Two To Go – plus "Sonshine", "Learning To Love", "Don't Wanna Let You Go", "Sailing", and "That's The Way I Feel Bout Your Love". Marathon is full of great keyboard work from Rodney Franklin – an artist who was well-trained in the best 70s fusion modes, and really knew how to keep things real on an 80s groover like this! The set's got less acoustic touches than on previous Franklin albums, but the sound is still plenty soulful throughout – a nice contrast to some of the flatter keyboard work of some of his contemporaries of the period – and proof that even with newer technology, the right artist can still make things sound great! There's a few well-chosen mellower moments amidst the groovers – and the set features a bit of vocals, but is mostly instrumental overall. Titles include "Lumiere", "Searchin For", "Let's Talk", "Love Is The Answer", "Stay On The Groove", "Marathon", and "Reflection Of A Dream". Skydance is a great example of why we always reach for our Rodney Franklin records time and time again over the years – as there's few other players who could serve up a blend of soul and jazz this well! The album's got a great balance of electric and acoustic, that instantly-warm style that Franklin virtually invented on these classic Columbia recordings – with plenty of care to avoid falling into fusion cliches that were either too jamming, or too clunkily commercial. Rodney plays a host of keys himself – including Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano – and the set features some nice lead vocals from Darryl Coley and Phyllis St James
– but also gives plenty of space for instrumental focus, with some tracks that are longer than usual for Franklin. Titles include the gentle stepper "One From The Heart", plus "Fiesta", "Destiny", "Song For You", "Skydance", and "Children". It Takes Two is a bit late in Rodney's classic years for Columbia, but still pretty darn nice – although certainly much more of a soul album than before! A fair number of the tracks here have standout lyrics – sung by Brenda Russell, Philip Ingram, Frank Musker, and even Franklin himself – but the keyboards still dominate pretty strongly, and include the mix of electric and acoustic modes that always made Rodney's albums nice. The keys show a definite influence of 80s technology, as does the production – which is shared by Franklin and Michel Colombier – and titles include "Motion", "Broken Wings", "It Takes Two", "My Wish", "The Eagle & The Condor", and "Look What's Showing Through".