While he might not have graced the Top 40 in the U.K. or U.S. since 1994's "The Way She Loves Me," '80s adult contemporary balladeer Richard Marx has since become a prolific songwriter behind the scenes for artists as legendary as Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr, and Luther Vandross, in addition to sporadically recording material for his own underappreciated solo career. Following 2008's triple whammy of Sundown, Emotional Remains, and Duo, a collaboration with Vertical Horizon's Matt Scannell, Stories to Tell combines the best of both worlds, with a series of stripped-back reworkings of tracks from eight of his studio albums alongside newly recorded versions of songs he originally penned for other artists. With Marx accompanied by just an acoustic guitar and the occasional flourishes of piano, this 18-track collection gives a new lease on life to the likes of early U.S. hit "Should've Known Better," old-school R&B ballad "Keep Coming Back," and his cleverly open-ended tale of murder, "Hazard," while the faithful renditions of "Now and Forever" (dedicated to his wife, Cynthia Rhodes) and Billboard chart-topper "Right Here Waiting" show that Marx's soft rock vocals remain just as emotive and impassioned as they were in his heyday. But it's the seven "covers" that provide the most intrigue, allowing Marx to provide his own interpretations of contemporary hits that only those who scan the sleeve notes would be aware he penned. His performances of Josh Groban's soaring ballad "To Where You Are," the driving post-grunge of Lifehouse's "Had Enough" and Daughtry's "On the Inside," and Keith Urban's Top Five country hit "Everybody" remain faithful to the originals. But elsewhere, Marx ramps up the rock guitars on his version of Travis Tritt's hoedown "Never Take Me Dancing," adds a sense of melancholy with his piano-based reworking of Cliff Richard's "The Best of Me," and -- best of all -- turns the schmaltzy bubblegum pop of *NSYNC's "This I Promise You" into an anthemic slice of slick Nickelback-esque AOR, all of which prove that Marx is just as convincing a recording artist as the acts he's writing for, even if the record sales suggest otherwise. Released in the midst of an unexpected purple patch, Marx's fourth album in two years is an understated and well-selected showcase of one of America's unsung songwriting talents.
Stories To Tell Review
by Jon O'Brien