Though they have only rarely written or produced their own material, there is a reason why the Temptations are still recording and selling music after nearly a half century. Part of it may have been luck, but a bigger part has been an impressive knack for teaming with the right producers and songwriters over those many years. Over the first part of their long history, the Temptations were thrust into the studio by the Motown brass at times with brilliant producers who lifted the group's fortunes (Norman Whitfield, Smokey Robinson) and at times with producers whose vision was incompatible with that of group leader Otis Williams (for instance, the disastrous mid-70s album, Wings Of Love, which, to Williams' dismay, was essentially turned into a Dennis Edwards solo album). But for the last 25 years, the Tempts have largely determined their own fate and worked with whom they wanted. And that is the case on their 49th album (and the first on Williams' own 10/30 International label), where they looked no further than their touring music director Johnny Britt (1/2 of the duo Impromp2) and road production manager/sound man Michael Panepento to work the boards. The result is the group's first album of all new material in six years and a disc that holds up the Temptations' legacy just fine.
The team's approach on Still Here was to rely on the foundation of the Temptations' classic sound - 5 part harmonies, alternating gritty and ethereal lead vocals, and always melodic material - and to give it an urbane, contemporary feel without chasing modern fads too much. So despite a few uncomfortable nods to current radio trends such as the rap interlude in "Change Has Come," the use of Auto-Tune in a couple spots, and the silly lyrics of "Shawtyismygirlooyeah" (here is my official request that no singer over 40 ever use the word "Shawty" again), Still Here is a disc appropriately aimed at the 35-60 year olds who have a genuine interest in hearing new music by the Temptations.
Panepento brings with him a basketful of songs from his hometown of Birmingham by local writers Shaun Pezant and husband and wife team James and Maxine Yerby (a.k.a. II Da Max) and provides production behind them that, while lower budget and more programmed than the lush, classic Motown sounds, is generally solid. And Britt, who has shown through his group Impromp2 an ability to bridge classic and contemporary sounds, is certainly up to the task on the handful of cuts he leads.
Within the confines of an adult soul album, Still Here covers a fair amount of ground. "Change Has Come" and "Listen Up" are the rough outliers, hearkening back with moderate success to the gritty social themes of the group's late 60s work. The rest of the disc is more laid back adult fare, with highlights in the very nice stepper, "Warm Summer Nights," and a number of strong ballads such as "Still Here With Me" and "Hold Me." Probably the closest thing to a classic Tempts' song is the old school tribute cut, "Soul Music," a nostalgic track which should play well with the group's longest fans.
Throughout their nearly five decades together, the Temptations (through literally a couple dozen lineups) have been a regularly charting act largely because of the impressively consistent quality of their albums. Quite honestly, no other group has even come close to making so many enjoyable discs over so long a period. So, while logic says that the quintet, with senior member Williams nearly 70 years old, is past its recording prime, damned if they don't shove logic to the side once again on Still Here. Though not on par with the group's greatest work, it is nonetheless a solid addition to the Temptations' discography. Otis and company bring it again vocally in a way that younger acts should take note of, and make a subtle but emphatic declaration to the music world that they are "still here." Recommended.
By Chris Rizik