Higher and higher....
Released October 2009
Now, I love Rod Stewart. I have loved him since I first heard Maggie May as a young teenager in 1971. He is an artist who has put out some truly great albums of his own material and has also successfully and convincingly covered many other artists' songs over the years, such as on the excellent Lead Vocalist album from 1993. Most songs are safe in Rod's hands. On this album he covers the soul music he grew up loving. The problem is, though, it is not the Rod of the seventies, who covered Sam Cooke's Twistin' The Night Away or of the early nineties, who covered Roy C's Shotgun Wedding. It is Rod-circa 2009, a Rod not nearly as earthy, raspy or blessed with the same bluesy, r 'n' b sensibility. It is a Rod who has been lazily basking in the warm jacuzzi waters of The Great American Songbook.
1. The Same Old Song
2. My Cherie Amour
3. You Make Me Feel Brand New
4. Higher And Higher
5. The Tracks Of My Tears
6. Let It Be Me
7. Rainy Night In Georgia
8. What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted
9. Love Train
10. You've Really Got A Hold On Me
11. (What A) Wonderful World
12. If You Don't Know Me By Now
13. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
For those reasons, I am not quite so convinced about this album. I love Rod's lively, soulful take on The Four Tops' The Same Old Song but Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amour goes a bit too deeply into "easy listening" territory, as does The Stylistics' You Make Me Feel Brand New. Jackie Wilson's Higher And Higher is lifted higher, so to speak, by some excellent backing vocals and Rod copes with the vitality of the song well. There is a good rhythm to the track. Smokey Robinson's iconic The Tracks Of My Tears is delivered soulfully, but just a little sparsely, backing-wise for my liking. Actually, it's ok, to be fair. For some reason, The Everley Brothers' Let It Be Me is included and given a full orchestrated backing, like on The Great American Songbook series. I have to think that there could have been many far more earthy soul numbers he could have chosen as opposed to these standards.
Brook Benton's Rainy Night In Georgia suits Stewart down to the ground. Jimmy Ruffin's What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted is reproduced pretty authentically. Stewart can handle these songs in his sleep, to be honest. The O'Jays' Love Train is effervescent, as it should be. Smokey Robinson's You Really Got A Hold On Me is a comparative rarity and Rod does it very well.
Rod has always loved Sam Cooke, claiming that there was a period in the late sixties/early seventies that Cooke was all he listened to. There is only one Cooke track on here - Wonderful World. I would have preferred an album of Cooke covers. That would be something to hear, I think.
Harold Melvin's If You Don't Know Me By Now needs one hell of a singer to take it on. Rod can do it, of course. The Temptations' Just My Imagination is, once again, delivered very competently, apart from a bit of a mess-up in the "Dear Lord - hear my plea" part of the lyrics at the end. If you know the song, listen, you will know exactly what mean! Anyway, when I say I am not totally convinced by this album when I have pretty much praised all of it may seem a bit odd. I am having trouble to express what it is, but I find the covers on here just don't have that certain je ne sais quoi to find me digging this album out to play too many times. Something just a tiny but sanitised about it. Something difficult to put my finger on, however, so maybe I am being a bit harsh.