What do you do when you're a connected and funded musician/producer who, like many others pushing 40 or greater, is disappointed with commercial music made by and for people born after your favorite era of music? If you're Mark Ronson, you dial a Pulitzer-winning novelist, snare a sympathetic group of stars, session giants, and unknowns, including a singer discovered during a talent quest through churches from New Orleans to Chicago, and record another tribute to your childhood soundtrack. Indeed, apart from the involvement of Michael Chabon, whose lyrics color nine of the 11 songs, Uptown Special is business as usual for Ronson and co-pilot Jeff Bhasker. The two songs that don't involve Chabon made the earliest and deepest impressions. Bruno Mars showcase "Uptown Funk," despite aiming for early Time and landing closer to a second-tier trifle -- One Way's "Let's Talk," for instance -- topped pop charts in a number of territories and went platinum in Ronson's native U.K. "Feel Right," led by Mystikal at his vulgar and ebullient best, splits the difference between Bobby Byrd and Son of Bazerk. Everything else was co-written with Chabon, whose somewhat surreal scenes are matched with predominantly hazier and freewheeling sounds. These songs, including two highlights that boast the dynamite rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Steve Jordan, as well as lazing vocals from relative youngsters Andrew Wyatt and Kevin Parker, tend to evoke summery soft rock/smooth soul hybrids of the mid- to late '70s, or certain songs by later practitioners like Phoenix and Daft Punk. "I Can't Lose" is the lone Chabon song that breaks a sweat -- thick, twisted synth funk that borrows from Soho's "Hot Music" and (cleanly) lifts from Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun," featuring newcomer Keyone Starr in the role of Evelyn King (or maybe Mary Jane Girls' JoJo McDuffie). Neatly tied together by opening and closing cuts that include Stevie Wonder on harmonica, because Ronson could swing it, Uptown Special is another nostalgic fantasy that provides light entertainment and provokes backtracking.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman