I never imagined one of my first album reviews would be on Pop/R&B artist Lionel Richie. He’s been nowhere near my radar since the 1980’s, when I actually regularly listened to ~ and cared about ~ Top 40 radio (you couldn’t tear my walkman headphones out of my ears on Sunday nights during Casey Kasem‘s Top 40 Countdown for anything in my youth!) Save for the occasional reminder that Lionel is Nicole Richie’s (adoptive) father, I haven’t thought much of him, nor listened to anything of his, in ages.
However, of late, due to the recent release of his new album, Tuskegee, I’ve been hearing and reading quite a bit about the seemingly once again ubiquitous artist. And I must say I’ve been impressed…by his humor, his groundedness, his sincerity and his willingness to do something different…
…something really different. Lionel, in a move both bold and refreshing, has gone country…in perhaps the most clever way he could ~ with his very own existing catalogue of hit songs, every one of which he is joined on by one or another of today’s (and in a few cases, yesterday’s) hottest country artists. He has essentially made an album of covers ~ country revisions of his very own songs…and believe it or not, it works!
Now I am not ordinarily a fan of country music. I attended my freshman year of college in Texas and my friends there would make me mix tapes entitled “Country Music Missy Can Stand”. Twang is not generally my thang. I have, however, been swayed by the likes of country artists such as The Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum and oldies, but goodies like Patsy Kline and Johnny Cash, so there is certainly room in my heart ~ and on my playlists ~ for some in that genre.
Therefore while it may not officially “count” as country music given its original roots, my Texas gals will be glad to know that in this album, Missy has found some more country music she can stand. You wouldn’t think that former Top 40 hits such as “You Are”, “Say You, Say Me” and “Dancing on the Ceiling” could translate into country, but they do! In fact, I found myself wondering how I never heard or noticed the country influence in many of the songs on this album before. It ends up seeming almost obvious that they should be tweaked to reflect their country undertones. Was Lionel always a little more country than rock and roll and I just never realized it? Songs such as “Sail On”, “Stuck On You”, “Deep River Woman” and even “Easy” sound as though they were always country songs! And in retrospect, Kenny Rogers (who returns here to reprise it) covered Richie’s “Lady” beautifully back in the day, so apparently others have seen the country potential in Richie’s collection as well.
Perhaps another reason it works so well is that we already know these songs, but get to hear them in entirely new ways, with a completely fresh sound. Upon first listen, I found myself eager to hear how each song was going to sound “gone country”. And what a wonderful reminder of all the great songs in Richie’s repertoire. There really are a lot of timeless tunes within it, which made for a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane…albeit one with a twangy twist.
Further adding interest…Lionel went to country and country certainly in return came to him! Everyone from Rascal Flatts (who completely re-energize “Dancing On the Ceiling”) to Shania Twain to current red hot country couple Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert (on separate tracks) to Willie Nelson collaborates with Richie on this record, rounding out an impressive roster of names.
Personal favorites on the album include “Stuck On You” with Darius Rucker (beautiful harmonies), “You Are” with Blake Shelton, “Sail On” with Tim McGraw and “My Love” with Kenny Chesney. And let’s face it, you can never go wrong with Willie Nelson ~ he and Lionel sound like they are genuinely having a good time duetting on the easy-breezy “Easy”. Not all are successful (purely a matter of taste). I’m not a fan of the new version of “Hello” with Jennifer Nettles. It takes itself a bit too seriously in my estimation ~ I much prefer the original. And it’s damn near sacrilegious to mess with the timeless “Endless Love”, one of the greatest love songs/duets ever written. Sorry, Shania (who apparently had to be begged to do it), but this version didn’t even come close to the Diana Ross/Lionel original. Lastly, I’m not sure “All Night Long” belongs here, either, no offense to you Parrotheads out there…
But in all, I tip my (non-existent) cowgirl hat to Richie for trying something entirely outside the box. And succeeding. Welcome back, Lionel. Yee haw.