One Random Single a Day #26: “Run to You” (1997) by Joi Cardwell

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I’m continuing my streak of writing primarily about female performers and musicians, because it’s so much more fun than writing about white dudes all the time! Joi Cardwell made her start as a background singer in the late 80s for acts as diverse as LL Cool J, Jermaine Jackson, and The Pointer Sisters. This career path would propel her to work with prominent producers in the Chicago house scene, and eventually land her a solo recording career of her own. Her work is probably most well-known for having been used in house music producer Lil Louis’ singles “Club Lonely” and “Saved My Life”, both of which went to number one in the Dance charts and proved to be some pretty influential inclusions in the house scene. Her solo efforts, however, are notable for the fact that she pens her own songs herself, atypical for pop performers. She’s achieved a few more top ten singles on the Dance charts throughout the years, and seems to be pretty productive with her projects all the way up ’til today.

One of my favorite facts about Joi Cardwell, however, is the fact that, according to multiple sources I have pulled up, she is openly gay – which is so cool! It’s very rare that queer female musicians find much success in any field of the music industry, and especially for those who don’t use their sexuality to cater to the male gaze with a exploitative façade of vague bisexuality. And as a queer woman myself, it’s always nice to listen to songs about a failed romance, such as “Run to You”, and be pretty certain that she’s probably not singing to a man. At face value, it’s a pretty typical house number, with all of the basic elements one would expect from a song of this genre – the 4/4 beat, punchy bass, repetitive sonic intensity, female vocals. Cardwell herself, though, utilizes her background as a backing vocalist to incorporate a more R&B/soul flavor to the whole mix. It is, however, restrained enough to where it doesn’t transform into a full-fledged pop song – there doesn’t seem to be any real melodic hook, for example.

But that isn’t to say that Cardwell herself holds back at all. From start to finish, this essentially works as a showcase for Cardwell’s dynamic vocal power, flexing those pipes at every point possible, with the intensity of such especially exploding at the climax before the outro. It’s clear that she was made to be a center-stage diva and she knows it. Sadly, though, her presence alone doesn’t quite elevate this to levels equal to other similar, better house recordings. The production sounds too synthetic and generic to even comment upon, and the lyrics aren’t really anything too spectacular either. It’s clear that this track serves but two purposes: show off the vocal power of the performer and make for acceptable music for dance floors. It accomplishes both adequately, but I’m not sure if I could really recommend this track to anyone as a particularly good song. Still, Cardwell herself deserves to be a much bigger star. A lot of people from the house scene who are in the know seem to be aware of who she is, but I can’t imagine her being very popular outside of these confines. Time to listen to the rest of her music, I suppose!

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