Ali Ollie Woodson - Never Give Up (2009)

Ali Ollie Woodson
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I once wrote that Ali Woodson could sing names from a phone book and make them sound exciting. And the former Temptations lead singer, while possessing a nearly singular soul music voice, has too often appeared to test that theory, working on guest projects not nearly worthy of his talent while almost never issuing his own music.  So there was great excitement earlier this decade when Woodson finally released his solo debut album, Right Here All Along, a disc much like his career: a combination of breathtaking tracks that highlighted his tremendous baritone (particularly the ballad "Turn Out the Stars") and a plethora of by-the-numbers, forgettable modern R&B numbers.

I once wrote that Ali Woodson could sing names from a phone book and make them sound exciting. And the former Temptations lead singer, while possessing a nearly singular soul music voice, has too often appeared to test that theory, working on guest projects not nearly worthy of his talent while almost never issuing his own music.  So there was great excitement earlier this decade when Woodson finally released his solo debut album, Right Here All Along, a disc much like his career: a combination of breathtaking tracks that highlighted his tremendous baritone (particularly the ballad "Turn Out the Stars") and a plethora of by-the-numbers, forgettable modern R&B numbers.

Since Right Here Woodson has shown up here and there, brightening up releases by Juewett Bostick, The Masters of Funk, Soul and Blues and Freda Payne, while also taking part in a number of less noteworthy projects.  His career since leaving the Tempts could never be characterized as particularly aggressive, and he has thus been fairly frustrating to his fans who have patiently waited for his immense talent to be consistently matched with material of equal quality.

So here we are in 2009, and Woodson has quietly released a digital-only version of his long awaited sophomore project, Never Give Up, on his own Ollywood Records.  And like its predecessor, Never is a mixture of brilliance and underachievement.  Giving the appearance of having been cobbled together from recording sessions over several years (and oddly including two rehashed tracks from Right Here), it varies in style and production quality, though generally having a dated 90s Preston Glass kind of sound.   But despite the "thrown together" feel of Never Give Up, it is Woodson's amazing instrument -- that voice -- that keeps the disc compelling, even on the few tracks where he is simply cruising (fortunately, his cruising level is like an okay game by Kobe -- still a cut above most everyone else). 

To his credit, Woodson has strung together material that is overall of higher quality than his previous disc, especially solid cuts like "Joy," "Give Me One More Chance" and "Heaven Chose You to Be My Valentine."  The disc also includes two well chosen covers, "Walk Away From Love" (popularized by Woodson's Temptations predecessor David Ruffin) and the O'Jays' "Family Reunion," both generally strong remakes that are only marred by the heavily synthesized instrumentation that pervades the disc.  But the album's absolute high point is the sweet Ricky Williams ballad, "Misty Morning," a brilliant, airy track that is tailor-made for Woodson's expressive delivery and is only a real orchestra away from being an instant classic.

Ali Woodson continues to be an enigma: a brilliant singer who may never achieve the popular attention or critical heights that his talent warrants. But, like a pitcher with a 100 mile per hour fastball, he remains fascinating: a tease who is always capable of a perfect game and -- despite his inconsistency -- leaves fans consistently wondering "what if?"  And with Never Give Up, Ali Woodson again gives enough of a whiff of his immense capability to keep the tease going.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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