Like R&B vocalists from Stevie Wonder to Al Green, Kenny ”Babyface” Edmonds can take bland or treacly material — here, for example, James Taylor’s ”Fire and Rain” — and render it superior to the original with delicate or atypical phrasing plus sheer commitment. Passion, not laid-backness, rules on Playlist, a set of originals and covers. Sometimes Babyface’s take is equal to the singer’s (Bob Dylan’s ”Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”).
Covers albums tend to be dashed off as a way to fulfill an artist's last remaining contractual obligation to his or her label. However, Playlist is Babyface's first release for Mercury, following 2005's Grown & Sexy, and he put a lot of heart and soul into the material, all of which connected with him as a youngster listening to '70s AM radio. Most of the sources are anything but cool: James Taylor, Jim Croce, Dan Fogelberg, Dave Loggins, and Bread.