Michaux - What's Going On...Still... (2011)

Michaux

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A song like "What's Going On" resonated even in a time of relative peace. America wasn't involved in a shooting war in a foreign land in the 1980s and 90s that could be compared to the Vietnam War that Marvin Gaye sang about on his masterpiece. Instead, the war had been transferred to the streets of America, as rival street gangs killed over territory, drugs and respect. 

By the 1980s, the man who returned to the block in "What's Happening Brother" was likely getting out of prison. Situations change, but Gaye's album remains as powerful and as relevant as ever. That's why recording artists ranging from Robert Palmer to Grover Washington, Jr. later returned to the songs from "What's Going On." It's the rare work that never gets dated, and will never be dated as long as there is war, environmental degradation, income inequality, political/racial unrest, drug abuse - and as long as people believe that God is the only answer to all of those problems.

A song like "What's Going On" resonated even in a time of relative peace. America wasn't involved in a shooting war in a foreign land in the 1980s and 90s that could be compared to the Vietnam War that Marvin Gaye sang about on his masterpiece. Instead, the war had been transferred to the streets of America, as rival street gangs killed over territory, drugs and respect. 

By the 1980s, the man who returned to the block in "What's Happening Brother" was likely getting out of prison. Situations change, but Gaye's album remains as powerful and as relevant as ever. That's why recording artists ranging from Robert Palmer to Grover Washington, Jr. later returned to the songs from "What's Going On." It's the rare work that never gets dated, and will never be dated as long as there is war, environmental degradation, income inequality, political/racial unrest, drug abuse - and as long as people believe that God is the only answer to all of those problems.

Some of the artists who have covered What's Going On might be surprising. However, anybody who knows anything about the Texas based vocalist Michaux understands why he would want to make an album of cover version of songs from What's Going On. That album is called What's Going On... Still....

Michaux works with at risk youth and ex-offenders and is deeply involved in his church. Michaux's career means he knows that What's Going On's message is timeless. Then, of course, there are the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that give What's Going On... Still... a ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same' quality. The stuck in a time warp feel one has when watching the news explains Michaux's desire to return to these songs. And while most listeners would rather hear Marvin sing the originals, it's beneficial to hear other voices sing these songs - and to consider the social, historical, political and cultural contexts that compel them to revisit What's Going On.

Each artist seeks to put his or her own imprint on the music, and Michaux is no different in that regard. Michaux shares Gaye's soft tenor vocals, as well as jazz singer's flair for vocal improvisation. Michaux pays honor to Gaye by using the kind of instruments that Gaye would have used in 1971. If anything, What's Going On... Still... is even less cutting edge than the original. Gaye used overdubbing, which allowed him to sing the backing vocals on many of the tracks. Gaye also used strings, which gave What's Going On an orchestral feel.

The instrumentation on What's Going On... Still... is more sparse, which gives the album an intimate feel. Michaux distinguishes himself by not following the track listing that listeners will find on Gaye's album. The CD opens with "God Is Love" and is followed by "Mercy Mercy Me" with "Inner City Blues," "What's Going On" and "What's Happening Brother," following respectively. Changing the order can be distracting because Gaye wrote What's Going On as a concept album, told from the viewpoint of a returning veteran. The most obvious difference is that What's Going On... Still... includes five of the nine songs featured on What's Going On. The songs Michaux included on his album are the best loved songs from What's Going On. "What's Going On" has been done to death, and I would have liked to hear what Michaux would have done with songs that lent themselves to some of his jazz stylings, such as "Flying High (In The Friendly Sky)" or "Right On." Still, What's Going On... Still... is a nice tribute to Gaye and a reminder that music can be timeless, topical and entertaining.  Recommended

By Howard Dukes 

 
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