June 14, 2024
Michael McDonald
(Motown – 2004)
by Matthew Robinson

The Motown sound has always been known for its smoothness and understated sensuality. That is why it seemed to be a natural to have of the smoothest and sexiest voices left in the Blue Eyed Soul camp work his way through the greatest American songbook. Unfortunately, the meeting of two smooths makes many of these songs a little flat. The offering of lyrics to such timeless classics as “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” may hint that this collection is intended as a primer to the soulfully-challenged who are not already familiar with these timeless hits. However, the presence of deeper cuts like Stevie Wonder’s “All In Love is Fair” and “I Believe” may reopen even the most seasoned Motown ears.

That the album was recorded in New York, Nashville, LA, and France also depicts a bit of distance from the Detroit sound. Even so, McDonald’s arrangements make the most of his equally singular sound. Screaming into “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” McDonald bubbles into the synthesized devotional “You Are Everything” before slinking into a Gospel-tinged R&B take on “Reflections.” “I Want You” has every silky string and deep bass pull intact, “Since I Lost My Baby” is truly remorseful and longing, and “Distant Lover” reaches nearly as far out as the original. Even though “How Sweet It Is” may be a bit too sweet, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” may be more Smooth Jazz than true Motown Soul, and “Ain’t No Mountain” may sound more like Eddie Money than Nick Ashford, McDonald is most able to hold the songs together with his signature style and obvious love for the music.

© 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR

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