Michael McDonald - Motown 2 (2005)

Michael McDonald
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At a time when Rod Stewart was releasing The Great American Songbook #154, it would not have been surprising for there to be a certain amount of cynicism about yet another aging rock star singing an album of covers.  But Michael McDonald's 2002 smash Motown was rightly greeted with cheers, as one of the great soul vocalists of our time created a solid tribute to the arguably the greatest collection of soul music from the greatest soul label ever.  The success of Motown made Motown 2 inevitable, and the good (and surprising) news is that the sequel may be even better than its predecessor. 

At a time when Rod Stewart was releasing The Great American Songbook #154, it would not have been surprising for there to be a certain amount of cynicism about yet another aging rock star singing an album of covers.  But Michael McDonald's 2002 smash Motown was rightly greeted with cheers, as one of the great soul vocalists of our time created a solid tribute to the arguably the greatest collection of soul music from the greatest soul label ever.  The success of Motown made Motown 2 inevitable, and the good (and surprising) news is that the sequel may be even better than its predecessor. 

Perhaps the most telling moment on the disc is the addition of Stevie Wonder playing harmonica on the cover of "I Was Made to Love Her."  It is a nice touch and is representative of the imprimatur that Motown vets have given to the two McDonald projects.  The esteem with which artists hold McDonald is also indicated by the top notch band that has been put together for this disc, including musicians such as Billy Preston, Nathan East and Lenny Castro as well as great vocal help from Darwin Hobbs, Toni Braxton and one of our SoulTracks favorites, Kevin Whalum.

As with any covers album, there are some seminal cuts that are simply impossible to remake satisfactorily, and the Four Tops' "Reach Out, I'll Be There" is the most obvious one here.  However a number of Motown 2's tracks provide nice alternatives to the originals, such as the salsa version of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me," the duet with Braxton on "Stop Look Listen" and the soft take on Smokey's "Tracks of My Tears."  The album is at its best on the less obvious, more personal song choices McDonald made.  He roars through a great version of Martha Reeves' "Nowhere to Run" and handles Wonder's "Tuesday Heartbreak" nicely.  But the album's highlight is the fantastic cover of the Originals' "Baby I'm For Real," perhaps Marvin Gaye's most underrated composition and a song that is tailor made for McDonald's impassioned voice.  It alone is worth the price of the disc, but there is plenty else to recommend.  By digging deeper into the Motown vaults and adding personal touches and interesting arrangements, Motown 2 not only works well as another fine tribute to the legacy of Detroit soul, it stands independently as a fine soul album and a consistently appealing performance.

By Chris Rizik

 
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