Huey Lewis & the News: Soulsville

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Posted November 6, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Extra, extra: read all about it. Huey Lewis & the News delivers ‘sweet soul music’ on Stax-inspired tribute

Huey Lewis & the News trail blazed the ’80’s pop culture with his cool mix of blues rock and doo-wop soul with hits like “The Heart of Rock ‘n Roll,” the #1 pop hit “The Power of Love” and “I Want a New Drug.” After scoring major success with his best-selling third project Sports, Lewis made his leap to MTV with a brigade of memorable videos and even made a cameo in the 1985 summer blockbuster ‘Back to the Future’. But the tidal wave of hits slowly stabilized and the News found themselves off of the front page as the ’90’s paraded onwards. So why is it that on the twenty-fifth anniversary of ‘Back To the Future’, Huey Lewis & the News are back in the news and even became the rage on Twitter after becoming a trending topic? Well, after Lewis celebrated the 25th anniversary of ‘Back to the Future’ with movie actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in New York, he decided to unveil his tribute to the past with his Stax-embossed covers’ album Soulsville; his first in over nine years.

The decision to do a covers’ album from Lewis makes sense. His style of rock never shied away from the roots of rock ‘n roll and soul music and his Ray Charles-seasoned tenor exposed just how much an impact his influences had on him. What will probably be the most obvious set of questions one will raise from the whole matter is why limit oneself to just the Stax/Volt catalog and why now.

Lewis explained his decision to Billboard: “It was actually my manager Bob Brown’s idea. I was a little wary because I’m a big fan of this stuff. But I figured there’s no harm in trying and working the songs up.” Not only does he try to work the songs up, but he succeeds. Rather than choosing a set of memorable songs that will lead to quick comparisons and sharp judgments, Lewis decides to dig deeper into the vaults and picks up a few rarities, B-sides and lesser known hits. When he dusts them off, Lewis & the News arm themselves with crisp arrangements, Southern-fried soul and nostalgic spunk; creating an eventful celebration to Motown’s biggest rival. Although Lewis respectfully chooses middle-tier selections like Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You,” rather than bigger Wicked Pickett gems like “In The Midnight Hour,” he isn’t afraid to up the ante when he nails down Pickett’s squalls while also inserting his own familiar doo-wop executions.

Unlike some covers’ albums where pop singers tend to filter their vocal and musical arrangements of soul-inspired offerings through milder, adult-contemporary performances, Soulsville never compromises its soul. Lewis sways with Wilson Pickett muster against a backdrop of zesty horns and female background harmonies on “Don’t Fight It.” The energy charges onward when Lewis duets with Dorothy Morrison on the preachy Staple Singers gem, “Respect Yourself.” When Lewis decides to whip through the Solomon Burke tribute on the doo-wop seasoned “Cry To Me,” he finds a creative way to work Rufus Thomas’ jovial and quick energy into the vocal. Other cuts buzzing with interest include the Otis Redding-penned “Just One More Day” and the Isaac Hayes ghetto love ballad “Soulsville.” The News does a terrific job in nailing down their homage to Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, evidenced best on the instrumental jam “Grab This Thing.”

Amazing to hear how refreshing his takes are on “Never Found A Girl,” “Never Like This Before” and “Little Sally Walker.” Helping in duplicating some of the Stax auras, Lewis and his band journeys to the historic Ardent Studios; home to Stax’s overflow work and where Johnnie Taylor, the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers recorded most of their ‘70’s output. Shockingly, this album sounds as if it could have been released on the Stax imprint, except for its cleaner polish. It’s that end result that gives Soulsville extra clout and a greater boost in its modern-day relevance.

Although music shelves are currently being flooded with compilation-styled and nostalgic albums, much of it are filler albums for catalogs and feel like the end results of soon-to-expire contract agreements. There needs to be a careful balance of respect for the originators and an artistic transcendence from the originals to the new arrangements. Soulsville makes all the right decisions; never compromising Huey Lewis’ style while adding attraction to a bright, short period of soul music and giving The News something new to help spice up their live shows.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 18 October 2010
  • Label: W.O.W.
  • Producers: Jim Gaines, Huey Lewis & the News
  • Track Favs: Never Like This Before, Never Found a Girl, Don’t Fight It, Cry to Me, Respect Yourself, Just One More Day

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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