Hugo Montenegro

Hugo in Wonder-Land

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After recording a string of experimental easy listening albums that explored everything from pop songs to classical music, Hugo Montenegro focused his skills on interpreting the work of one composer on 1974's Hugo in Wonder-Land. This time, Montenegro reinterpreted the work of Stevie Wonder in an instrumental format, focusing mainly on material from his early-'70s renaissance, but also throwing in a few more classically Motown-styled items from his late-'60s period. To stay in touch with Wonder's then-current style, Montenegro made extensive use of ARP and Moog synthesizers on a number of the tracks. The end result is a little campy here and there, but often quite effective. Hugo in Wonder-Land is at its best when it plays the material straight: an effectively jazzy rendition of "Too High" swings with abandon and the mellow, string-enhanced version of "All Is Fair in Love" that closes the album is quite lovely. The transformations of the songs to purely instrumental affairs also shows off how strong these songs are as pure music: a good example is "Living for the City," which reveals the stomping, funky melody that was hidden beneath that song's social-consciousness story lyric. The problem that keeps Hugo in Wonderland from being uniformly excellent is that Montenegro occasionally gets carried away with his use of electronics; the effectiveness of the album's versions of "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" is hampered by the kitschy, sci-fi synthesizer lines that dominate their arrangements. Despite this problem, the album remains a unique and likable affair that will entertain lounge enthusiasts and provide an interesting curio for Stevie Wonder completists.

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