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Rod Stewart – Soulbook

2009-12-07 16:47
After a decade spent resurrecting his career with recycled Great American Songbook standards and middle of the road Rock Classics, it's about time Rod gave his real musical roots a shout out. "This is the album I have waited my whole life to record" he reminisces in the liner notes. "These are the songs that I’ve danced to, made love to, cried to and yes, even fell on the floor to as a young man in the infancy of my career."

You can hear Rod's sweated over exactly how to thread his sandpapery rasp into more than mere karaoke cocktail bar tributes here. "My Cherie Amour" is a blissful Bacharach summer ballad skip about those butterflies of unrequited love, replete with playful harmonica courtesy of original composer Stevie Wonder.

A wistful take on "Tracks of My Tears" fares less well. While its mandolin and conga kissed hues add a suitably resigned lilt to Smokey Robinson's ethereal soul original, a bombastic stadium rock arrangement courtesy of keyboardist Greg Phillinganes drags the contemplative ballad perilously close to Vegas lounge balladeer pastiche. It's a real pity too, that Smokey's own cameo harmonies are barely audible.

The 'bedroom soul' duets are even less successful. Instead of embracing the post-coital afterglow at the core of The Stylistics' "You Make Feel Brand New", Rod's drowsy croon leaves Mary J. Blige wondering whether her partner has in fact passed out. Jennifer Hudson does her best to help Rod rediscover his Mojo on "Let it Be Me" with some impassioned vocal pyrotechnics, but with the 60-something singer seemingly more interested in riding those syrupy strings, the end result is a bit of an off key Broadway ballad.

Damn, have the years of cultivating a detached Vegas crooner's cool on that Great American Songbook album franchise finally taken its toll on Rod's ability to find some good-old fashioned soul fire?

Not quite. Yes, his blank middle register meander though Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" is a disappointment. But Rod does ignite a bluesy flame on a sensitively sparse rendition of Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia" and hit an almost evangelical stride on the O'Jays "Love Train" before rediscovering his own soul in a combustible funk makeover of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World".

"A sentimental fool am I to hear that old love song and want to cry," croons Rod Stewart over a gentle piano intro to "It's the Same Old Song" before vintage Motown brass 'n drums morph The Four Tops' classic break up ballad into a nostalgic symphonic soul breeze.

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