Smokey Robinson

Timeless Love

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Smokey Robinson hasn't had much use for making records since his records stopped selling in significant numbers, which happened as of the early '90s; after that, his only regular album has been 1999's Intimate. But Universal Music's New Door imprint exists for the purpose of making new recordings with veteran artists for whom the major label is the repository for the bulk of their catalogs (think Joe Cocker, Nanci Griffith), and Robinson fits that criterion perfectly, since Universal controls the Motown library. But instead of making an album of new, original songs, Robinson has opted for the hoary concept of "aging rock-era pop star sings pre-rock standards," an idea that was never good to begin with and that should have been buried with the final entry in Rod Stewart's series of atrocities. Happily, Robinson's version turns out to be not half bad. One reason for this is that, unlike Stewart et al., his model is not Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack, but rather some of the jazz singers who also essayed the work of Cole Porter and other pre-1950 songwriters. Robinson seems to have first heard these songs as sung by Ella Fitzgerald (his primary influence), Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday, among others. When he sings "I'm in the Mood for Love," he throws in some of the King Pleasure vocalese on James Moody's jazz interpretation of the song, "Moody's Mood for Love." Robinson is no stranger to the material; he first recorded Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" and Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" with the Miracles in 1962, and now as a 66-year-old he isn't afraid to take these songs where he wants to take them, i.e., in the direction of his '80s "quiet storm" hits. They are all the better for it. As of 2006, Robinson was spending his time playing the concert halls in the many hotel/casinos around the country; his versions of these standards would be as likely to drawn appreciation in such venues as his old hits.

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