Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Adult Contemporary, Vocal, Standards, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock
It’s good to be the queen: You can do whatever you want. But does that mean you ought to? On Aretha Franklin’s new album, the soul diva land-grabs territory claimed by some of her ladies-in-waiting. It features her takes on the hits most associated with the competition — including Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” to Etta James’ “At Last” to Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia.” There’s a clear commercial hook here — you already know and love the songs.
Twenty-two years ago Annie Lennox released her first solo album Diva, a recording that successfully forged a disparate identity from the work she had created with Dave Stewart, as one half of ‘80s synth-pop duo Eurythmics. The album concluded with the 1930s tune “Keep Young and Beautiful”, a tart, tongue-in-cheek ode to staying trim and attractive. With lyrics as overtly ironic as the album’s title, the effervescent song might have seemed a jarring ending to the record, but it has remained to this day a guilty pleasure.
Annie Lennox's 2014 covers collection, Nostalgia, finds the former Eurythmics vocalist soulfully interpreting various pop, jazz, and R&B standards. In many ways, Nostalgia works as a companion piece to her similarly inventive 2010 album, the holiday-themed Christmas Cornucopia. As with that album, Lennox eschews predictability by picking an unexpected set of songs and producing them with detailed care.
Rod Stewart’s mega-successful Great American Songbook series has become something of a blueprint for musicians at a crossroads – donning a metaphorical black tie and settling into the nostalgic glow of pre-rock music standards. As the former Eurythmics star points out, Nostalgia may be just that for most of her listeners, but this sideways skip into jazz and blues is new for her. Still, exemplary a singer as Lennox is, it would take something truly extraordinary to bring something to Gershwin and Carmichael classics that Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald didn’t.
Annie Lennox's ongoing evolution from New Wave ruler into U.K. queen of blue-eyed soul isn't exactly surprising – her magnificent voice has always had an R&B foundation, on display in this orchestral set of jazz and blues standards. "Summertime," "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child" show reverence and impeccable technique yet not quite enough signature to transcend mere impressiveness.
Annie Lennox’s left-turn foray into jazz and pop standards starts promisingly enough. After a dreamy snippet of composer Sammy Fain singing from 1930, Lennox sinks her teeth into the unabashed romance of “Memphis in June,” followed by “Georgia on My Mind.” She and co-producer Mike Stevens keep the production mostly clean and warm, though the song selection is sometimes curious. “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child,” both associated with Billie Holiday, are bold choices, but Lennox is out of her depth as she tries to burrow deep into their pathos.
Annie Lennox, late of Eurythmics fame, is on shaky ground. "Nostalgia" (Blue Note), the title of her sixth studio album, is a loaded word, one which does not bode well for an artist once famous for pushing the outer edges of pop showmanship. And its premise, basically an American songbook rehash, is too often a phone-it-in, late-career refuge for countless rockers and divas, including Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell.