This sounds like it has the ingredients to be a cut above the average covers album, but something is amiss. Let’s look at the ingredients. The publicity trumpets that this is the Simply Red front man’s debut solo album; I’m not sure what they think his 2008 album Tribute To Bobby was, but the lack of attention to detail is a little disappointing. OK, we’ll put that down as a hiccup and forge on. Let’s consider the song selection.
Firstly, there’s a clutch of well-worn standards; we get Ray’s ‘Lonely Avenue’, Etta’s ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, Otis’ ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, and Aaron’s ‘Tell It Like It Is’; all are definitive soul. Then there are several fine selections perhaps not so instantly recognised, such as Arthur Alexander’s ‘The Girl That Radiates That Charm’, Bettye Lavette’s ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and Tyrone Davis’ magnificent ‘Turn Back the Hands Of Time’; so far, so good. The Flamingos’ tear jerker ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ (yes, there was life before Art Garfunkel!) is borderline soul but a gorgeous song nonetheless, so tick. However, it is simply, um, impossible, to call ‘50s crooner Perry Como’s ‘It’s Impossible’ soul music, and the same goes for Antony Hegarty’s ‘Hope There’s Someone’ (and why a contemporary song?); ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ is a Jimmy Reed blues standard and also out of place. If those three don’t fit the album definition then goodness knows what to make of the inclusion of The Animals’ ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ – truly bizarre. Regardless of the quality (none are less than very good), the selection of songs ultimately falls short of the mark.
That leaves us with the man himself. Hucknall is one of the truly great blue-eyed soul singers, and with Simply Red has rendered numerous soul covers that are a sheer delight. He has always shown due respect for the music that has so profoundly influenced him, as with his Bobby Bland tribute album; there is certainly no lack of respect here either. But there is something clearly amiss. Somewhere along the way, that soaring voice has lost a few octaves, perhaps exacerbated by a production that has tended to flatten out the sound and his performance. Whatever it is, the thing about soul music is that it’s all about the emotion, it’s about the feel in the lyrics. American Soul is a dignified attempt by Hucknall to acknowledge his musical roots; the biggest problem, though, is that it lacks that vital main ingredient – soul
By Trevor J. Leeden
# Mick Hucknall – American Soul #