“Smokey & Friends”
(Verve Music Group)
Smokey Robinson doesn’t want to be a relic and that‘s understandable. He deserves for people to know his role as a chief architect of the Motown Sound and bard of the American romantic songbook, while remaining a vital, inspiring voice today.
Therein lay the catalyst and challenge of “Smokey & Friends,” which finds him pairing with artists young and old on classics he composed, performed or both. Some duets boost the mission while others backfire.
On “Cruisin’,” Jessie J offers a spoken-word testimony that includes how joining Robinson is “a dream come true.” It‘s pleasant enough but hard to get past the pedestal upon which he’s been placed. On “Quiet Storm,” John Legend intones: “Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson one of the greatest poets of all-time. Smokey, it‘s an honor to sing with you.” Just sing -- that’s honor enough.
The collection clicks when the gushing takes a backseat to grooving. Steven Tyler approaches “You Really Got a Hold on Me” less reverentially and the result is something beautifully bawdy and bluesy. It‘s less of a remake and more a reboot that doesn’t instill longing for the original.
The album proves Robinson retains that vital, inspiring voice and provides nice moments. The biggest success would come if it sends new fans back to the originals, which were not only nice, but necessary. (AP)
Rice has clever take on new country sound
“Ignite the Night”
On “Do It Like This,” country singer Chase Rice suggests he and his friends prefer pulling out a fiddle at a back-country bonfire to dancing under a disco ball. But the track contradicts that sentiment by employing several pop and hip-hop influences more befitting an urban dance floor than a rural, electricity-free setting.
“Do It Like This” from his new album “Ignite the Night” opens with the sound of a scratching turntable, a vocoder-altered voice track, and an electronic drum pattern - even the banjo sounds like a looped sample. Those conventions put Rice on the side of those country artists currently pushing a crossover style of country music that openly draws on pop and contemporary R&B.
That isn‘t a big surprise, considering Rice is the co-writer of the monster crossover hit “Cruise” -l and a former finalist on TV’s “Survivor.” Rice takes a wholly modern approach on his debut major-label album. Recent radio hit “Ready Set Roll” uses the mix of rap and singing heard on hits by Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.
Like those artists, Rice won‘t be heralded by tradition-loving country fans. But the huge crowds rallying behind the singer’s contemporaries will find plenty to like about “Ignite The Night” and the clever ways he‘s found to enliven this new country trend. (AP)
Brad Paisley returns to happier themes
“Moonshine in the Trunk”
Brad Paisley backs away from social issues and strikes up a party on his 10th studio album, “Moonshine in the Trunk.” However, that doesn‘t mean he suddenly starts to play it safe.
Musically, Paisley’s arrangements continue to emphasize intricate musicianship and turn-on-a-dime ensemble play, while his lyrics use witty wordplay to explore the many ways people try to escape their problems and improve their lives.
The veteran country star‘s knack for tongue-in-cheek fun comes through on the funky “River Bank,” the fist-pumping “Crushin’ It” and the high-speed hijinks of the title song. Paisley also touts American pride throughout, whether he‘s name-checking sports teams and muscle cars on “Country Nation” or toasting the land of opportunity on “American Flag on the Moon.”
As in the past, his ambitious reach sometimes gets the best of him. On the traditional country tune “4WP,” for example, Paisley jams the gears by racing through too many musical ideas too quickly.
Still, 15 years into his career, Paisley is the country singer most likely to crack jokes about a hillbilly family getting rich (“High Life”) or write a sensitive power ballad about a woman breaking through the good-old-boy corporate network (“Shattered Glass”). Which also makes him the country star most likely to make fans smile -- and to make them think. (AP)