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Mitchell: Anthology tells story of Sly & Family Stone
John Legend: Love In The Future (Columbia)
I loved the last John Legend album he recorded with the band The Roots, perhaps best known now as the house band for Jimmy Fallon. It was titled Wake Up! and it was an all-cover album of civil rights songs from the ’60s, mostly by artists that did not enjoy huge success like, for example, Sam Cooke and his divine smash hit People Get Ready.
But Wake Up! was a collaboration album and involved outside material.
This new Legend offering is his first studio album of original songs since his 2008 long player titled Evolver that scored the big crossover hit Green Light.
Legend enjoyed a minor hit from his soundtrack contribution to Think Like A Man with the song Tonight (Best You Ever Had) which has kept him in the spotlight and helped whet the appetite for this new release.
Love In The Future has made its debut at the lofty No. 4 spot this week on the Billboard sales charts and continues John Legend’s run in popularity.
This new disc is completely different in tone than the social consciousness of Wake Up! with a hot and heavy boudoir album made as a soundtrack for making babies.
The first song, The Beginning, samples Sarah Bareilles and features the lyric “even though the world is crazy...start picking names” to a slow and spare sultry ballad.
The feature song for airplay is the mid-tempo Made To Love, co-written (as are a few other songs) with Kanye that has a definite Cee Lo ring to it, while Legend explores the notion that he and his mate might be space aliens come to help populate the planet.
The other feature track going by the add-on sticker is Who Do We Think We Are with a rap from ultra slob Rick Ross that samples the early ’70s Stax smash Mr. Big Stuff by Jean Wright that harkens slightly back to the psychedelic soul of that era.
In spite of this psych-soul and the sci-fi leanings of Made To Love this is a mostly “lets light some candles” album ripe at 16 tracks but seems somehow to miss out on a, shall we say, climactic closing out hit single.
Sly & The Family Stone: Higher! (Epic)
Until this week the very best collection of Sly & The Family Stone’s music you could get was a 1981 double album simply titled Anthology that was later released on CD as well.
But Higher! The Best Of The Box, is a four-disc collection that really tells the story of this seminal and stellar American soul/rock/pop/funk multifaceted outfit.
Sly & Family had a very uncertain early career and did not enjoy a big hit until their fourth album and the smash Dance To The Music.
So this new all-encompassing collection starts off with many fine songs from their early days when Sly & co. were making great music that was, for the most part, greatly overlooked.
But what a terrific body of work.
Songs from the late ’60s and early ’70s (Woodstock also helped make the band a household name) such as Everyday People, Stand, Family Affair, M’Lady, Thank You (Falettineme Be Mice Elf Agin), Hot Fun In The Summertime, Everybody Is A Star, I Want To Take You Higher, etc., are as relevant today as ever especially with so many hip hop artists sampling Sly’s superb mixes.
This also comes as a single disc teaser but big fans will want the magnificent box set.
Gloria Estefan: The Standards (Crescent Moon)
Gloria Estefan has done like so many of her contemporaries by tackling the Great American Songbook.
I suppose Rod Stewart is the most notorious with his multi-album efforts of evergreen songs from yesteryear. But Estefan’s effort is so much better for the great musicians she has hired, whereas Stewart often relied on cost-cutting synthesized backdrops.
Estefan works with a small combo of seasoned session and jazz musicians that includes Dean Parks on guitar, Shelly Berg on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass along with the Miami Symphonic Studio Orchestra.
I also noted that, instead of choosing the album title Standards, Estefan has decided on The Standards as most of the tunes on this generous 13-track CD are indeed extremely well known classics.
Most of the songs are from the ’20s and ’30s with recognizable titles such as Embraceable You, I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face, Young At Heart, You Made Me Love You and What A Wonderful World—the later being the hardest to cover since Louis Armstrong’s definitive take from the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack. However, some of Estefan’s covers are just a tad too moody with a gravitas that seems to miss the nudge and a wink of a song like They Can’t Take That Away From Me and the promise of a brighter future in What A Difference A Day Makes.
However, Estefan glows in her interpretation of Charlie Chaplin’s angelic Smile as sung in Spanish for her huge Latin base.
Meanwhile, there is a cool jazzy element to The Day You Say You Love Me with a superb violin solo from guest Joshua Bell while sax player David Koz offers a fine solo to the more breezy The Way You Look Tonight.
In the large and growing catalog of Great American Songbook albums, Gloria Estefan has provided a worthwhile contribution and I’m willing to bet that The Standards gives Estefan her eighth Grammy next year.