Huey Lewis & the News - Soulsville (2010)

Huey Lewis & the News
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase
It's not hard to pinpoint Huey Lewis's musical influences; evidenced best in his formulaic motif, one built upon doo-wop pop, sassy horn inclusions and his bluesy, Ray Charles vocals. No wonder the Lewis and the News decided, even in an age where cover albums are entirely flooding the marketplace, to honor the sweaty, gutsy soul of Stax Records with Soulsville. With former News' producer and Stax stalwart Jim Gaines and granted access to Memphis' historic Ardent Studios, their gratitude to Motown's biggest rival feels just right as they crank up performances that mirror the work of Stax's house band: Booker T. & the M.G.s

The intentions to celebrate the label's supernovas are to be expected, but Lewis's memory-lane trip avoids the memorable golden tracks with fear of being compared to the originals. Still, the song selection for the obscure grooves on Soulsville show just how brilliant and vast the Stax catalog measures up to their chart-topping offering. Otis Redding's "Just One More Day" and the rock ‘n roll action of "Never Like This Before" are a perfect fit for Lewis's voice and his excellent band. The doo-wop seasoning of Eddie Floyd's "Never Found a Girl" and the Soul Children's "Just the One (I've Been Looking For)" reassures News' subscribers of their familiar soulful style, while the Isaac Hayes-penned title track hints at the racial intolerance and injustice that marred the ‘60s. That social gospel passion is revisited once more on "Respect Yourself;" where Dorothy Morrison joins Lewis on the sermonic gem.

One of the album's mysteries, often peculiar for cover albums, is how he organizes thick multi-layered, interchangeable tributes. Evidence of that can be traced in "Cry To Me," where he pays tribute to Solomon Burke openly and cleverly injects a nod to Rufus Thomas using his infectious vocal punch.

With the actual Stax label resuscitated back to life, Soulsville-released on the independent W.O.W. label-feels like the album that got away from their grasp. And, although the idea of a tribute album may sound like old news for Lewis & the News, it's bound to get them a lot more subscribers as it proves to be one of the most aesthetically sound cover albums of 2010.

Notable Tracks: "Cry To Me," "Never Like This Before," "Never Found A Girl," "Respect Yourself," "Little Sally Walker" and "Soulsville" 

Vocals: 4.0 stars
Music: 3.5 stars
Lyrics: 3.5 stars
Production: 4.0 stars
SoulTracks Call: Highly recommended

By J Matthew Cobb