Saturday, April 14, 2012

"cd" review: lionel richie's "tuskogee"

The first cd I ever  bought in my life … was when I was 15.  Lionel Richie’s “Back to Front”.  (Fine, do the math.  I’m 35 … first cd bought was 20 years ago, carry the one … yes, I’m f*cking old!  DEAL WITH IT!  Because God knows I can’t …)

So imagine my surprise when I realized that not only is Lionel Richie, ONLY my favorite recording artist* of all time, releasing a new cd … and having a concert on CBS (that I just finished watching) … but it’s a country cover CD of his greatest hits?  Oh hell to the mo fo yes, I am doing a CD review!

(*: the others in my top 10, not necessarily in order – Gavin DeGraw, Carole King, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Church, Stevie Nicks, Ben Harper, and Brandon Boyd of Incubus, who I think is a f*cking creative genius, and their “Live at Red Rocks” is one amazing composition of music.  Told you nobody can put together a playlist of stuff they love as diverse as I can …)

“Tuskogee” by Lionel Richie.
13 tracks, approximately 60 minutes.

Again, in the interest of full disclosure, you will NEVER find a bigger Lionel Richie fan than me.  The odds of any song on this cd review getting below a B … are the odds of me blowing below a .08 as I type this.  AKA “slim and none, and none is a 15 point favorite”.  I LOVE Lionel Richie, from the moment he took the stage on “Saturday Night Live” when I was almost six years old, he had the number one song in the nation with “Truly”, and Eddie Murphy (“guest” hosting the episode because the “supposed to host” Nick Nolte, his 48 hours co-star, was “too sick” to perform.  Sure he was …) welcomed him on stage.  “Truly” is Lionel’s finest hour.  It’s the greatest love song ever written.  I PRAY I someday find someone I can say the lyrics of “Truly” about.  Sadly, “Truly” isn’t on this cd … but go figure, my favorite Lionel song is!  Ooh, this is gonna be fun, an hour of Lionel Richie! 

(Also tragic?  No “We Are the World”!  How can you get the biggest names in country music, and NOT re-create THE defining song of a generation?  A song that Lionel wrote, and sung the first verse of?  That is an outrage!  And yes, to this day, if you blindfold me, I can identify every f*cking singer on the song before they appear, in the order they appear.  Let's just say, I like this song, a lot.)

Hang on, let me get prepared.  (Stevo pouring a quality sized glass of merlot …)  And we’re underway with …

Track 1: “You Are” featuring Blake Shelton.  This is not one of my favorite Lionel songs.  (The top 5?  “Dancin’ on the Ceiling”, “Truly”, “Penny Lover”, “Oh No (Crazy In Love)”, and “All Night Long”.  Only two of these appear in this cd release.  The man has SICK talent!  SICK!).

I should also note before I begin an official review here … that “The Voice of Reason” is my “Voice of Reason” for a, uuh, reason.  Namely, that I’m wrong more often than I’m right, whereas the inverse applies to him.  Having said that … one of my few successes in life?  Is converting said “Voice of Reason” into a Lionel fan during the time we were roommates.  When I’m right?  I’m REALLY right!

This cover is ok, to be honest.  Blake dumbed down this amazing song too much, and dumbed down is probably the wrong phrase, “quieted down” is probably more appropriate.  Having said that?  I would pay $25 to hear this live. 

Grade: B.  It won’t be a hit single … but you don’t want to slit your wrists after hearing Blake Shelton’s interpretation of it.  I have a feeling … that B is going to be the worst grade handed out tonight … and yes, this is a VERY biased grading scale being employed tonight …

Track 2: “Say You, Say Me”, featuring Jason Aldean.  This would be in my second tier of Lionel favorites.  Definitely in the 6-10 range, along with “Endless Love”, “Running With The Night”, “Sail On”, and “Stuck On You”.  Side Note: do you realize I’ve named ten – TEN! – Lionel songs, and have YET to mention “Three Times a Lady” or “Easy” or “Lady” or the criminitely underrated “My Destiny”?   And to think people wonder why I love this man’s music as much as I do …

Gotta be honest … if you saw the “Footloose” remake?  This is playing out like Hunter Hayes’ remake of “Almost Paradise”.  It’s not QUITE as good as the original … but it’s still really damned good, so freaking good that it’s almost on a level playing field with the original. 

Grade: A-.  That’s in the tailgating rotation if I have anything to say about it.  Oh.  Wait.  I set the tailgating rotation.  So yes, it’s in the tailgating rotation.

Track 3: “Stuck on You” featuring Darius Rucker.  Oh Sweet Jesus, do I have high hopes for this, and no, I haven’t been toking up tonight.  And Oh Sweet Jesus, does this deliver!  This, honestly?  Is one of those songs that you put the headphones on, close your eyes, and just nod in loving appreciation to, it’s that damned good.

It kind of falls apart at the end as they try to duel each other … but hell, I love this song.  I love this version of this song.  I’m mighty glad you covered this, Hootie.  MIGHTY glad!

Grade: B+.  I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers.  Especially if my name was “Crackers”.  (“Jasson” and “The Voice of Reason” will appreciate that joke …)

Track 4: “Deep River Woman” featuring Little Big Town.  I have HUGE hopes for this … and not even five seconds in, the cover is paying off!  This is phenomenal!

OK, fine, I know I’m biased entering this, but I am tapping my foot along to the chorus.  This is awesome! 

This is incredible.  “The Voice of Reason” rated this as his second favorite track, behind … well, we’ll get there eventually (and we agree on said track, believe it or not.)  This?  Is why Lionel Richie’s talent, song-writing ability, and ability to cede his songs to a younger, different generation make him amazing in my eyes.

Grade: A.  As in amazing, awesome … insert “a” word here.

Track 5: “My Love” featuring Kenny Chesney.  Oh sweet Jesus.  This is my mom’s favorite Lionel song … and my mom is the person who turned me on to Lionel, by force-feeding him on the radio / cassette tape track driving me and my brother to school in the morning 25 some odd years ago.  The lesson?  As always – your mom usually knows greatness when she sees it. 

Or in this case, hears it.

And this track?  Is just about the truest to the original version heard so far … and that’s a good thing.  I’d pay to hear that again.  (Stevo realizing he just bought this cd on iTunes).  Oh, wait, I did.

Grade: A-.

Up next?  My FAVORITE Lionel Richie song … the “Tailgating Anthem Of My Life”, the song I make sure ALWAYS plays at a tailgate … its song 59-14 on the jukebox in the basement … it’s … “somebody turn on the lights – we’re gonna have a party, and its starting tonight!!!”  it’s …

Track 6: “Dancing on the Ceiling” featuring Rascal Flatts.  Look it, they could kill this with the revolver, in the lounge, and Miss Scarlett is running out of the room to avoid prosecution, and it’s not rating lower than a B.  Admitting it up front.  THIS is my FAVORITE Lionel song.  Not his BEST – his best isn’t on this cd (that would be “Truly”).  But this is my favorite.  And sorry, but I need to spend the next four minutes fist pumping and irritating the neighbors with my dancing on the floor … I mean ceiling …

Hang on, I need to rewind that track …

One more time …

OK, fine, just one more time …

“The only thing we want to do tonight?
Is go round and round, and turn it upside down!”

(Please, continue!!!  No, really, please!!!)

“So come on!  Let’s get loose!
Don’t hold back because there ain’t no use!
It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground,
Because when we like to party?
We only want to get down!

Oh!  What a feeling!
When we’re dancing on the ceiling!
Oh!  What a feeling!
When we’re dancing on the ceiling!!!!”

Grade: A f*cking plus.  No, it’s not a great vocal.  No, it’s not memorable.  But riddle me this Batman – if this version of “Dancin’ On The Ceiling” popped up on the tailgating playlist, would you be fist pumping and dancing and singing right along with me?  OF COURSE YOU WOULD!  This song is so freaking inspirational … so freaking uplifting … so freaking AWESOME! … that not only “The Voice of Reason”, but “The Ex” have zero issues with it being on the tailgating play list.  When the two people that are your (far) better half, want to “Dance on the Ceilin’!”  It’s epic.

Track 7: “Hello” featuring Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.  “Run”, her duet with Matt Nathanson, is awesome.  This?  Is epic.

The best cover of this song (barring a major change) will be David Cook’s reinvention of it on “Idol” four years ago.  This?  Is as close to nailing it as you can come post-David Cook covering it.

Grade: A+.  Great stuff.  The "Voice of Reason" was right -- this track alone makes buying the entire cd worth the price.

Track 8: “Sail On” featuring Tim McGraw.  Other than “Go Your Own Way” or “Silver Springs” by Fleetwood Mac, THIS is THE greatest breakup song ever.  (Go figure – all three were released within a year of each other.  The late 70s musical hits were SO freaking underrated …)

This interpretation, though?  Didn’t work for me.  Probably because there’s no way Tim McGraw leaves Faith Hill at this point (whereas Lionel was dealing with his abusive ex-wife when this came out … yes, female beating up male spousal abuse.  Wait, I’m trying to praise Lionel here, let’s just move on …)

Grade: B-.  I’ve heard far better covers of this classic.

Track 9: “Endless Love” featuring Shania Twain.  Look it, I like Shania … but how the hell do you top Diana Ross?  The answer: you don’t.  But you at least take the field in said ballpark.  And this is not half bad.  It’s nowhere close to the original Lionel / Diana Ross version … but its superior to the Luther Vandross / Mariah Carey cover from the mid 1990s.  And that’s good enough for this liberal judge and jury.

Grade: B+.  The track has its charms, especially the ending, they nail it.

Track 10: “Just for You” featuring Billy Currington.  OK, I lied – there’s one cover getting below a B … and this is it.  Awful.

Grade: D.  Stunning – a Lionel song I can’t stand.

Track 11: “Lady” featuring Kenny Rogers.  In the interest of fairness, they already covered this on “Crossroads”.  And for anyone who doesn’t know, Lionel wrote “Lady” for Kenny Rogers.  Having said that …

Amazing.  Love, love, love the stripped down opening.  Love the stripped down first verse on both artist’s behalf.  This is really good.  Honestly, it opens like that Oscar winning song “Falling Slowly” that Kris Allen killed with the rope, on the stage, on “Idol” three years ago.  And that’s a good thing.

Grade: A-.  No complaints other than the “been there, heard that” factor from the “Crossroads” show a few years ago.

Track 12: “Easy” featuring Willie Nelson.  Uum, yes, please?

I’ll let Willie take it:

“Why in the world would anybody wanna put chains on me?
I paid my dues to make it …
Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be,
But I’m not happy when I try to fake it …”

Grade: B.  I liked the first half of the song far better than the last half.  It was too slowed down.  “Easy” is an uplifting anthem about a guy realizing he can be anything he wants to be.  This seemed too slow, too depressing.  Still enjoyable though.

Finally …

Track 13: “All Night Long” featuring Jimmy Buffett.  Quick, trivia time!  Can you name the official theme of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles?  Absolutely it was “All Night Long”.  On top of everything, Lionel wrote and performed the official theme song* to a freaking Olympics!  How can you NOT love this man’s talent?

(*: in the interest of fairness, Peter Ueberroth ran the 1984 Olympic games (and based off of actually making the Olympics profitable for the first time, was hired as the commish of baseball shortly afterwards).  The man was a genius – all the “official sponsor” stuff you now see in sports?  Came because Ueberroth sold off “official sponsorships” to make the Olympics profitable ... then brought the practice to MLB.  If it wasn’t for that whole collusion crisis that led to the 1990 lockout and $280 milllion plus verdicts against the owners, he’d probably be very fondly remembered.)

Gotta be honest, this just isn’t working for me.  You would think that two of my favorite artists collaborating on a song every person knows would work … but it doesn’t.  This sounds too much like a “mail it in” job, a “I’m just here for the paycheck and the royalties” performance.

Grade: B-.  Should have been better than it was.

Overall verdict: are you kidding me?  It’s Lionel Effing Richie!  With every notable country music superstar known to man!  Of COURSE it’s getting at least a 10-6 wildcard worthy rating on the Theismann Rating Scale!

Overall, I’d give the CD a 12-4 mark.  The “Voice of Reason” is right – “Dancing on the Ceiling” is nowhere near as much fun as it should be (or as the original was) … but there’s a lot in this that cancels that out, not the least of which is Little Big Town’s take on “Deep River Woman”, Darius Rucker’s take of “Stuck on You”, Jennifer Nettles playing the role of the blind clay mold on “Hello”, and Kenny Chesney nailing “My Love” to second f*cking base.  Well worth the $10.30 on iTunes to download.  When both this site’s (not quite) humble blogger AND “The Voice of Reason” agree a cd is worth purchasing?  Trust us – it’s worth purchasing!

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