Release Date: Aug 19, 2014
Record label: Verve
Genre(s): R&B, Adult Contemporary R&B
On this duets album, the R&B legend rerecords some of his classic hits with indebted singers, from Steven Tyler to Sheryl Crow to John Legend. The balance of respectful tributes and reimaginings recalls John Fogerty's similarly structured 2013 collection, Wrote a Song for Everyone. "My Girl," done with Miguel, Aloe Blacc and JC Chasez, stretches out with between-the-sheets smoothness, and James Taylor turns the Smokey-penned Marvin Gaye classic "Ain't That Peculiar" into a light-swinging blues.
Smokey & Friends seems like it's as much an American Idol judges and mentors project -- or a sequel to Randy Jackson's Music Club -- than a celebration of Smokey Robinson's career. Produced by Jackson, Smokey duets with his guests on fresh versions of popular compositions he wrote during the early '60s through the early '80s, popularized by Smokey himself -- with and without the Miracles -- or other artists, namely the Temptations and Marvin Gaye. The array of vocal matchups alternates between suitable and, yeah, peculiar.
Smokey Robinson remains one of the smoothest movers in music. The silky-voiced septuagenarian decided to round up some of his famous friends — from newcomers like Jessie J to old pals like Elton John — to help reimagine a clutch of the classic songs he either performed himself with the Miracles or penned for others in his Motown family. While the new versions have little chance of replacing the originals seared into our collective brains, both Smokey and his buddies certainly sound like they’re having a good time revisiting Hitsville.
Gather your best-known hits and divvy them up among your pals and admirers: It’s become a go-to move for musicians of a certain age, including John Fogerty, Tony Bennett and Lionel Richie, who scored an unexpected No. 1 album in 2012 with “Tuskegee.” So it was only a matter of time until Smokey Robinson, the R&B legend with a trove of classic tunes, got into the act. But if the all-star duets record is beginning to feel like a legacy-burnishing obligation, Robinson, 74, sidesteps that vibe on the breezy “Smokey & Friends,” a would-be museum piece with some real air in it.