Saturday, February 11, 2012

RECORD REVIEW: Seal "Soul 2"

Soul 2
(Reprise Records)

Grammy-winning R&B
powerhouse Seal returned
to "New Release" bins
last month with Soul 2,
the sequel to his 2008
Top 20 record, Soul.

He's scored huge hits of his own such as "Crazy" and "Kiss from a Rose," yet the 48-year old London native once again opts to give props to classic R&B from the '60s and '70s — resulting in a record more appealing than most of the other gazillion cover tune records that have flooded the dying marketplace in recent years. In fact, with his smooth yet powerful signature style, few artists on today's music scene could have delivered such an engaging tribute.

Although they achieved two huge Top Ten hits ("Car Wash" - 1976 and "I Wanna Get Next to You" - 1977), Rose Royce is a name that comes up less frequently than  The Commodores, Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire  when discussing classic R&B groups. However, they made enough of an impact on Seal for him to tip his hat to the Los Angeles-based outfit not once, but twice on Soul 2.  "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" was originally only a minor hit in 1978, reaching #32 on the pop charts, while "Wishing on a Star" failed even to reach the Top 40. However, Seal nails these two to the wall beautifully and despite likely being the least-known track on Soul 2, "Wishing" is perhaps the record's crowning jewel.

Seal remains true to the original vibe and arrangement of most of the tunes, such as Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," The O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and The Spinners' "I'll Be Around." However, with the assistance of producers Trevor Horn and David Foster, even the spot-on versions feel and sound fresh.

But even an artist like Seal, operating within his comfort zone, is capable of aiming, pulling the hammer and misfiring. Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" was a beautifully gritty, masterpiece. However, Seal's version of the 1972 hit sounds closer to a Rodgers and Hammerstein  show tune than a compelling cultural commentary from a troubled period in our nation's history. And the remake of "Lean On Me" simply lacks the stank of Bill Withers' 1972 #1-selling version.

Other highlights include Teddy Pendergrass' 1980 jam, "Love TKO," The Miracles' 1965 smash, "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Love Won't Let Me Wait," the 1975 hit from Major Harris.

In short, Soul 2 is simply a wonderful treat for fans of classic soul music from a time when the term "R&B" was synonomous with talented musicians playing actual instruments and singers who understood melody and sang heartfelt songs filled with true passion and emotions beyond "blastin' caps" and gittin' their "drink on" with "hos" in "da club."

-Christopher Long
(February 2012)

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