Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tuskegee Homecoming

The Return Of Lionel Ritchie (With Friends)

They say that 99% of people admit they sing along to Lionel Ritchie songs when they come on the radio, and the other 1% are lying. Of all Ritchie’s contemporaries, he appears to have survived the ravages of time (and fame, wealth and plastic surgery) the best. In fact, the fame, wealth and hair dye mean that he looks better than he did when his hit making years were at their peak. This is also because he no longer wears jumpsuits and a combed out afro. But it’s not just about looks: on stage he appears limber, energetic, and in full voice has not lost any of his high notes. The same cannot be said, say, of his partner in crime, Kenny Rogers (who curiously, looked to the the exact same shade of orange as Lionel Ritchie on the CBS Special. For a taste of pre-surgery Kenny, see below).

Ritchie could easily sit back and enjoy his $200 million fortune, but no. Someone very savvy has decided that it’s time he hitched himself to the country music bandwagon and re-recorded his greatest hits alongside country’s hottest stars. The album, Tuskegee, named after the city of his birth, has been met with wild success, galloping to number one right out of the gate.

There is no reason to re-record these timeless hits unless it is to give them  makeover, or perhaps to see how other people sing them. He’s half done this. In interviews, Ritchie describes how wonderful working with these singers was, though a revealing pattern emerges; the country stars, chomping at the bit to take on these songs, all seem to have done such good jobs that no room was left for Ritchie on the tapes. But this, being a duets album, Ritchie has inserted himself very prominently on all of the tracks, opening them up and taking the big notes. It’s a bit like going to a concert where the conductor jumps into the orchestra to take turns playing all the instruments.

We already know how Ritchie sings these songs — brilliantly, memorably. And though the songs are very listenable, I suspect The Inky Jukebox is not the only listener who wishes we could simply hear his guests do their thing. While some songs sound like really really good karaoke — essentially the same arrangement as the originals, others have been totally overhauled to amazing effect. The standout example is “Hello,” a song much lampooned as a pathetically drippy ballad, which is here transformed by Jennifer Nettles into a rousing up-tempo number. One suspects Ms. Nettles simply overwhelmed Ritchie’s ego with the power of her voice.

A wasted opportunity is the remake of “Lady,” the blockbuster hit Ritchie originally wrote for Kenny Rogers, which is here sung by … Kenny Rogers.

Other songs are revelations, the full power of which was only seen on the concert performed by these artists which was aired on CBS. Jason Aldean’s “Say You, Say Me,” another of the middle-of-the-pack Ritchie songs was given new life with his reedy voice and honky-tonk delivery, something not found on the recorded track, which Ritchie disappointingly brings back into the framework of the original.

Kenny Chesney’s ability to sing a love song is something The Inky Jukebox would like to have heard more of — the whole song, say — with “My Love.”

While Shania Twain does nothing much for “Endless Love” on the album, the duet featuring Marc Anthony and Sara Evans really stood out on the concert broadcast. This is the best Evans has sounded in a TV broadcast in a long time.

Ultimately, it’s wonderful to hear these songs again, and Tuskegee is an album worth having. The Inky Jukebox just wishes it wasn’t such a one-horse race, and that the guests didn’t have to jockey for position in the studio. It’s Easy. Sadly, the album does not feature Big & Rich singing "Brick House." 

Here's Tim McGraw doing "Sail On" as part of his live show last summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome, y'all