The tempos, sentiments and story-telling centres of these songs are perfectly country.
Lloyd Bradley 2012
From Tuskegee, Alabama, Lionel Richie was always a county boy at heart: that much was implicit by the narrative-heavy ballads that pepper his back catalogue and the countless countrified covers of Three Times a Lady. Here, his Stetson is truly out of the closet as he gives a collection of his classic numbers a pronounced rural makeover, duet-style as he brings in some of the genre’s biggest names. Shrewd choices too, running from the legendary to the contemporary, meaning Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Shania Twain put in appearances, as do Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker and Rasmus Seebach – but this isn’t simply a sales pitch. Richie constantly crops up at the Country Music Association Awards and is probably as marketable to the lighter end of the country music audience as most of his guests. And this album won’t have affected such a status quo.
With the exception of a couple of ill-advised collaborations – Hello, with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, is even more mawkish than the original; Angel, featuring Pixie Lott, becomes a bland power ballad – it all works with total synchronicity. The tempos, sentiments and story-telling centres of these songs are perfect country fodder, and Richie’s light touch with the vocals and the instrumentation has long been established. Dancing on the Ceiling becomes a mildly raucous banjo-fest; Say You Say Me adopts a pedal steel guitar; Deep River Woman, featuring Little Big Town’s delicate harmonising, is rural gospel personified; Easy has a creeping organ that’s pure Memphis, while the harmonica and Willie Nelson’s singing give it nearly an outlaw quality; and Jimmy Buffett fits perfectly with the restrained island pulse of All Night Long. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these hayride makeovers is the music and the vocal interactions seem so natural, in quite a few cases you have to go back to the originals to check something has actually been changed.
Whether Tuskegee, the album, is enough to please hard core country fans is not really the point here – Richie’s post-Commodores output was largely ignored by soul fans. He’s a pop artist of substance, and as such brings a touch of class and sufficient flavour of another genre to the mainstream to make music that’s interesting and lasting.