What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin'?
(1979), Sweet Sensation
(1980), and Stephanie
(1981) didn't appear on CD until a 2008/2009 Universal Japan program. On Feel the Fire: The 20th Century Collection
, they're finally given wider recognition and distribution, anthologized in full with the addition of five mostly essential 12" versions. This represents Stephanie Mills
' artistic peak. For all three albums, the singer worked extensively with producers James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, who transitioned from jazz firebrands into sought-after R&B collaborators once they wrote "The Closer I Get to You," a Roberta Flack
duet that topped Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart in early 1978. Each one of these albums crossed into the Top 30 of the Billboard 200, propelled by the breezy, fully ornamented disco-soul of "What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin'?," "Sweet Sensation," "Never Knew Love Like This Before," and the Teddy Pendergrass
duet "Two Hearts," as well as the proto-Hi NRG stomper "You Can Get Over" and the synthesizer-bass-anchored club hit "Put Your Body in It." The albums don't merely hold up; they hang together. Mtume and Lucas brought their instrumental skills and utilized their core studio unit -- keyboardist Hubert Eaves, drummer Howard King
, bassist Basil Fearrington
, guitarist Ed Moore
, and vocalist/arranger Tawatha Agee
, among others -- throughout the sessions, making the albums play out like a true, unified trilogy. This set is essential for any lover of late-'70s/early-'80s R&B. Stephanie Mills was in the top tier, while Mtume and Lucas were heavyweights, wholly deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as the Chic Organization
's Nile Rodgers
and Bernard Edwards
, their more popular contemporaries.