Seal

Soul

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Although he worked in funk and blues bands early in his career, Seal is by no means a classic soul singer. He's been virtually everything else, starting with house music in his native London, and later turning to various flavors of adult contemporary and pop music. But the power and sincerity of his voice is indisputably great, which makes him a natural to sing soul music -- where passion and conviction are prerequisites. Soul, his tribute album to the great soul songs of all time, is a sincere, well-considered affair, which comes as a small surprise considering the usual type of tribute album (with an easy-to-market concept and an easy-to-digest list of songs). It's the height of ambition not only to cover "A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke's landmark of hopeful triumphalism, but to place it as the opening song. Seal's version isn't exactly innovative, but he carries it over well. His other choices fall into either of two slots: the inspirational ballad or the sensual love song. Examples of the former come with Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" (another civil rights anthem to place alongside "A Change Is Gonna Come"), James Brown's turgid "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," and Ben E. King's "Stand by Me." (The last is the only unwise song selection; it's practically impossible to wring anything new out of that standard.) The other category, the sensual love song, includes Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long," two of Al Green's hits, and one from the Philly soul canon ("If You Don't Know Me by Now"). What makes Soul an overall success isn't just Seal's caressing vocals and obvious knowledge of how to interpret these songs faithfully without drifting away; it's the subtle yet effective production work of 15-time Grammy-winning producer David Foster. Although his work of the 2000s for Michael Bublé and Josh Groban wasn't going to instill hope in the hearts of listeners, he does plenty of good work here, with earthy, organic arrangements and funky beats that are slightly clipped for a contemporary feel. Wisely, he fills in just a few of the portions of each song, relying on most listeners' familiarity with these classics to fill in the gaps.

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