On the heels of Mavis Staples’ latest, reviewed in this blog’s previous post, this is most definitely not a comparison of talent or impact or musical significance, both beyond question, Warwick’s without further query simply stellar in popular music terms and especially her Burt Bacharach period of perfect renditions.
This is a fine enough album and important to hear Warwick still performing. However, in the inevitability of comparisons, having mentioned both singers, Warwick’s vocal is here a little fragile, the tone its most distinctive permanence, but there isn’t the depth and natural volume that once was. Staples has a growl of a vocal that survives intact, quite a different instrument and able to perhaps dominate within its grittier [though also balladic soulful style] offerings compared with the norm of Warwick’s gentler genre.
So it is no surprise this album takes on board the complement of additional singers and upbeat production, most of which works. In terms of production, there are the vocal effects on ninth track You Really Started Something that ‘modernises’ the song, but the song itself is fairly ordinary so it is simply more effect than memorable – though I still understand the purpose/intention. Guest vocalists are Musiq Soulchild on opening track Am I Dreaming that provides a sweet depth to the soulful sound [think Isley Brothers/Stylistics smooth]; Kenny Lattimore on third What Color is Love which again contributes a soft depth of tone to set next to Warwick’s crisper one; Kevon Edmonds on fourth How to Keep the Music Playing which is a piano driven ballad, Edmonds’ falsetto a little saccharine in the nonetheless apt mix; Krayzie Bone in fifth Déjà Vu which I entirely understand as a rap interjection exemplifies that ‘modernising’ intention to most of these accompaniments, but doesn’t work for me; Brian McKnight in Forever in My Heart which is probably the weakest song for both, so the addition is lost in the melody-less inclusion, and finally FIJI in tenth Two Ships which returns to a workable combination of soft soul sweetly sung.
There are solo numbers and mustn’t be forgotten, themselves able to transcend the paired offerings, as with eleventh Life is Waiting which is upbeat and punchy, sounding like a Luther Vandross production model; penultimate What a Fool Believes is of course a big song made memorably big by McDonald, and Warwick here wisely doesn’t attempt to compete with that, so its calm take at the very least commands an interest, and closer What the World Need Now is probably unnecessary when one has such a dominant original out there, but the gospel chorus is rousing as is the sublime melody.
Where Staples is Gritty, this is Gentle, so simply chose your musical G-spot tonal requirement when selecting – different strokes, and that’s the end to the analogy.