Album: “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. Other songs that work and curb pining for the past are “The Way You Do [The Things You Do]” with CeeLo Green, which romps and rolls in a sonic workout that respects the Temptations’ version while adding something new, and “Ain’t That Peculiar,” which ain’t as peculiar as it might seem to feature James Taylor and the low-key gravitas he brings.
The same can’t be said about takes on two of Robinson’s most enduring, essential works: Elton John is his soulful best on “The Tracks of My Tears” and Sheryl Crow delivers Motown-worthy harmonies on “The Tears of A Clown,” yet you’ll find yourself waiting for Robinson to come in.
— Jeff Karoub, Associated Press
Album: “Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute To Motley Crue” (Big Machine/Eleven Seven)
Country artists have long paid tribute to rock acts compatible with country music, from the Eagles to Buddy Holly to country-loving British acts The Beatles and Rolling Stones. But a heavy metal act such as Motley Crue? For anyone listening to the arena-rock crunch in country music in recent years, country covering the Crue isn’t a surprise at all.
What may be surprise, though, is how ferociously some of country’s more mild-mannered acts rise to the occasion. Rascal Flatts has never come close to rocking as hard as on its version of “Kickstart My Heart,” which opens the album and sets the bar for others to match.
Florida Georgia Line pales in comparison with the formulaic “If I Die Tomorrow.” The same goes for Cassadee Pope, who went from rock to country after winning the third season of “The Voice,” but lacks authority on “The Animal In Me,” even with Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander as a duet partner.
Highlights include Justin Moore’s “Home Sweet Home,” with its Lynyrd Skynyrd-guitar tone and soulful vocals, The Mavericks using a Latin rhythm on “Dr. Feelgood” to bring out its dramatic story line, Eli Young Band’s sweetly melodic “Don’t Go Away Mad” and Lee Ann Rimes’ swinging “Smoking In The Boys Room.”
— Michael McCall, Associated Press
Album: “Space Invader” (eOne)
With seven-plus years of sobriety under his belt, the original Kiss lead guitarist has recorded his best solo album since his groundbreaking self-titled album in 1978.
With walls of wailing guitars, droning feedback and snarling solos, Ace Frehley launches an old-school ’70s-style hard rock jam fest. It kicks off with him talk-singing his way through the title track, about a well-intentioned extraterrestrial who comes to save the Earth, and it includes a sudden tempo change for the guitar solo just like he did on “Snowblind” and “I’m In Need of Love” on his first solo record.
“Gimme A Feelin”’ is a timeless rocker, with thick guitar chords, and “I Wanna Hold You” and “What Every Girl Wants” could be melodic hits. On “Change” and “Inside the Vortex,” Frehley showcases some impressive growth as a songwriter and arranger, with complex chord progressions and melody lines.
— Wayne Parry, Associated Press