Kool and the Gang - The Hits: Reloaded

Kool and the Gang
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Over the past few years there has been a spate of multi-artist tributes to Soul Music greats ranging from Marvin Gaye to Luther Vandross to the Isley Brothers.  While these albums are generally well-intentioned, they invariably result in music that fails to match the seminal songs or artists to which they pay tribute.  The Hits: Reloaded is a bit different in that Kool & the Gang are actually running the show, playing background on every song while a guest singer takes the lead.  The result however, with some notable exceptions, is largely the same.  

Over the past few years there has been a spate of multi-artist tributes to Soul Music greats ranging from Marvin Gaye to Luther Vandross to the Isley Brothers.  While these albums are generally well-intentioned, they invariably result in music that fails to match the seminal songs or artists to which they pay tribute.  The Hits: Reloaded is a bit different in that Kool & the Gang are actually running the show, playing background on every song while a guest singer takes the lead.  The result however, with some notable exceptions, is largely the same.  

The guest vocalists on the disc range from the inspired (Lisa Stansfield and Jimmy Cliff) to the disappointing (Angie Stone) to those apparently selected simply to simply pander to modern audiences (Lil Kim, Ashanti).  However, even the more effective vocalists can't get by the fact that the original versions of "Too Hot," "Jones vs. Jones" and "Ladies Night" are burned into our heads and were good enough that its not clear that they needed remaking.  Consequently, The Hits: Reloaded is at its best when it is covering lesser known material or wildly revamped versions of Kool hits.  The disc works well on a number of varied cuts, including the house-like "Jungle In My House," the smooth R&B "Serious" (a variation of "Too Hot") and especially on the two new Kool & the Gang solo songs, the straight up jazz "Jazziacs at the Kool Jazz Cafe" and "Stressin," a muscular, bluesy cut that is the album's highlight and one of the better songs I've heard this year.

Hits was released in a two-disc form in Europe and an abridged one-disc version in the U.S.  But while the two-disc version is a bit overstuffed (with multiple versions of "Cherish," "Ladies Night" and "Jungle Boogie"), the U.S. version inexplicably fails to include many of the album's best cuts (three of those mentioned above), instead including the cuts featuring the most popular guest vocalists.

All in all, The Hits: Reloaded is a solid, well played album that highlights just how good the original versions of Kool & the Gang's biggest hits were.  Happily, it also shows, on the group's new solo cuts, that the Gang has some very good music left in them.  Hopefully, this is an indication of what we'll hear on the album that they're working on for release later this year.

By Chris Rizik

 
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