Wonder, Song Review: A Greatest Hits Collection (Motown 1997)
- Since signing with Motown more than 35 years ago as Little
Stevie Wonder, Steveland Morris (his real name) has become
one of the titans of American rhythm and blues. Song Review
is a welcome retrospective from this enormously talented artist.
Though Stevie Wonder's output has slowed since his heyday in the 60's
and 70's, his influence and reputation remain enormous. Wonder took
home 15 Grammys between 1973 and 1976, and remains the only artist to
have won Album of the Year for three albums in succession.
Moreover, Wonder is a skilled musician: while his sweet voice comes
first to mind, Stevie is also a talented keyboardist, drummer and harmonica
The two discs on Song Review showcase prime Wonder,
including "My Cherie Amour," "Sir Duke," and "Superstition." Also included
is "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and "Boogie On Reggae Woman."
Disc two features songs from soundtracks from such films as The
Woman in Red ("Love Light in Flight"), Adventures of
Pinocchio ("Love Light in Flight") and a terrific cover of
Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" (from the 1996 Spike
Lee film, "Get on the Bus").
But listen to "I Just Called to Say I Love You" to hear the master
at work. With its intricate lyrics and impeccable vocal delivery, "I
Just Called to Say I Love You" is one of the finest pop songs from the
last 25 years.
Undecided? Give "I Just Called to Say I Love You" a listen. Stevie
Wonder is a giant, and Song Review should be heard
by young and old.
Cale, Any Way the Wind Blows, The Anthology (Mercury 1997)
- Any Way the Wind Blows is a long overdue double-disc
collection from J.J. Cale, the man who pioneered the laid-back Tulsa
sound (along with fellow Oklahoman, Leon Russell).
With long-time engineer Audie Ashworth, Cale perfected
the smooth, blues-rock sound that highlights his impeccable guitar playing
and studio technique. Indeed, as Ashworth notes, "The soloing instruments
and the vocal just barely rise out of the bed and never stand apart
Though he's recorded just 11 albums during a 25-year career, Cale's
songs have enjoyed wide-spread fame in the hands of others, included
cover of "Call Me the Breeze" and Eric
Clapton's rocking versions of "Cocaine" and "After Midnight."
Cale's classic sound is reflected on the 50 tracks on this set (including
six unreleased songs), such as "Cajun Moon," "Thirteen Days," "Downtown
L.A.," and "Sensitive Kind" (with its lovely string
Adds Ashworth, "Cale always wanted the voice mixed down. He was always
pulling back the fade around the vocal. He said it made you want to
lean into the music, instead of leaning back from it. It would pull
people in. He was an engineer and he came with chops. He had definite
ideas about mixes."
One of my favorite tracks on this collection is "Woke
Up This Morning," an unreleased song from the 1973 Okie
sessions. With its great stereo mix of guitars, "Woke Up This Morning"
shows Cale at his prime.
My one knock about this album is its packaging. Oh, I confess that
the liner notes are helpful. But the album features only current pictures
of Cale, nothing from earlier in his career, when he was the enigmatic
studio player. (In later years, Cale has performed more live shows.)
And the liner notes say nothing about the band members Cale
has played with during the years, including long-time sideman, Christine
Now, I'm a long-time J.J.
Cale fan. And Any Way the Wind Blows was a perfect
opportunity to fill some of the gaps in Cale's personal life. But they're
not here. Instead, all we get is the music. Which remains a treat onto
itself. For a true stylistic pioneer, check out J.J. Cale.
Lee Jones, Ghostyhead (Reprise 1997) - Ghostyhead
is the first studio release from Rickie Lee Jones since 1993's Traffic
From Paradise (a solid release). Jones' work has become more
experimental following her return to Reprise. And Ghostyhead
takes her interest in hip hop and alternative to a far degree.
Jones finds herself long removed from her early jazz-tinged hits,
such as "Chuck E's In Love" (1978). Most of Ghostyhead
is hard to absorb. But the single, "Firewalker," is a hot number about
surviving the abuses of life.
Says Rickie, "I had been hearing a lot of interesting music and some
inspirational texts from hip-hop, and was attracted by the way tension
is built with subdued drum mixes. That was a starting point in creating
It's hard to recommend buying an album just because of one single.
But "Firewalker" comes close: as Rickie says, it has great tension.
If this song makes it to the radio, Ghostyhead has
-- Randy Krbechek