We’re excited to introduce a brand new feature at SoulMusic.com, “Digital Soul Spotlight” which focuses on titles in the classic soul, R&B, funk and related genres that are only available digitally (for streaming and downloads). Renowned writer and essayist Tim Dillinger provides an overview and commentary on “Backatcha,” the second album by The Two Tons, formerly known as The Two Tons O’ Fun and later, as The Weather Girls.
One of the most exciting things to happen for music lovers in 2020 was Craft Recordings’ remastering of Sylvester’s Fantasy Records catalog. Sylvester’s first three recordings for the label, produced by Harvey Fuqua, introduced the world to more than the second phase of his career; they also introduced us to the earth-shaking voices of Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, pulled out of the Bay Area’s gospel scene, and dubbed by Sylvester, The Two Tons o’ Fun. In addition to remastering Sylvester’s catalog, they also refreshed the Two Tons Fantasy recordings. While their debut had been available in digital music outlets, the follow-up, Backatcha, has now made its’ digital debut.
In 1980, their first effort as the Two Tons set them apart as an entity independent of Sylvester. Also produced by Fuqua, their debut produced three singles which all charted on Billboard’s Dance chart, in addition to the Sylvester penned and produced “Taking Away Your Space,” which would become a Quiet Storm radio classic.
The same year, they released their sophomore effort, Backatcha, to a lot less fanfare. While their debut had done the job of bringing the Tons into the clubs where they were already known, Backatcha was focused on showcasing the range of sounds that Martha and Izora could cover. “Never Like This,” the album’s only charting single, sees the Tons looking beyond disco, with a serious two-step that the rhythm section (which includes Eric Robinson, who co-wrote five of the album’s songs, on keyboards) rides out for almost five glorious minutes.
Other highlights include their renovation of Tower of Power’s “Lovin’ You Is Gonna See Me Through” (retitled on Backatcha as “Your Love Is Gonna See Me Through”) which the Tons turn into a full-throttle gospelfied showdown with a driving Hammond organ and a sizzling sax solo by an uncredited player. They also revisit “I Been Down,” originally recorded by Margie Joseph in 1973 and by the Tons themselves on Sylvester’s first Fantasy album. This version takes a moody turn with Martha and Izora stretching out in this more stretched out take, talking smack all the way to the end of the fade.
The ballads showcase just how versatile Wash and Armstead were as well. Wash glides through “Can’t Do It By Myself,” which sounds like something that should have been on the Sparkle soundtrack, ornamented by saxophone, harmonica and girl-group harmonies. They also tackle two country tunes, co-written by the aforementioned Eric Robinson and Victor Orsborn, the team who co-wrote Sylvester’s “Dance (Disco Heat).” Izora takes the lead on “Cloudy With a Chance of Rain” and Martha leads “I’ve Got To Make It On My Own” (complete with a steel guitar).
If you only know Martha and Izora as The Weather Girls, Backatcha provides a much fuller idea of their possibility had the success of “It’s Raining Men” and the marketing plans of Sony executives not so branded them as a novelty act. Thankfully, Concord’s Craft Recordings has given the world a chance to rediscover the breadth of their talents.
Tim Dillinger, January 2022