Music News

Label Saguaro Road widens to encompass R&B and gospel

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Two years after launching as a country and roots-music label, Time-Life imprint Saguaro Road Records is expanding into contemporary R&B and gospel.

Saguaro Road’s first release under its R&B wing will be an album featuring Brandy and her brother and fellow VH1 reality-show star, Ray J. Also on the release slate is the reissue this month of a 2009 album by Motown legend Smokey Robinson and the release of a holiday album by the O’Jays. The label plans to announce its first signings to its gospel division shortly.

“Our goal at Saguaro is to be active in American music, and R&B is one of the foundations of American and world music,” said Mike Jason, senior vice president of retail at Time-Life.

Time-Life’s release of a 2008 covers collection by Joan Osborne and its launch later that year of Saguaro Road represented its first efforts to release new music, a departure from its cornerstone business of direct-to-consumer marketing of oldies compilations and video collections of classic TV shows.

Like Saguaro Road’s foray into country music, the label’s R&B strategy will be focused on signing acts with established fan and tour bases, according to Jason, a former executive at RCA and Sanctuary Music Group.

“We’re looking for a combination of classic artists who are still very vibrant, like Smokey and the O’Jays,” he said, “and younger artists at the other end of the spectrum heading toward peaks in their careers, like Brandy and Ray J.”

Mirroring the label’s approach on country releases by such acts as Patty Loveless, Tanya Tucker and Lonestar, each R&B and gospel release will typically involve a one-album deal with the chance to do more. Saguaro Road will support each release with a full-service team encompassing radio promotion, retail and online sales support, marketing, publicity and two-minute TV spots generated through the company’s direct-response infomercial division.

“Even though the business is difficult and challenging, we can do a lot of nontraditional and traditional marketing,” Jason said. “And the blending of those things will make us successful where others are struggling.”

Slated for a fourth-quarter release, the Brandy and Ray J project will be a family-oriented album inspired by the siblings’ popular VH1 reality show, “Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business,” which will start its second season September 19. It features performances by various members of the Norwood family, including Brandy, Ray J, father/musician Willie Sr. and manager/mom Sonja.

“The VH1 show gave us a platform to broaden our family brand,” Ray J said, “and now this Time-Life project opens up more doors.”

Footage shot during the family’s recording sessions will appear in the next season of the VH1 show because, Brandy said, “fans want to see us back in the studio.”

As for its other inaugural R&B releases, Saguaro Road is reissuing Robinson’s 2009 album “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun,” and plans to release an O’Jays holiday album later this year that will include covers and original songs.