Two decades into his career and a good decade after his last U.S. chart success, Simply Red lead singer Mick Hucknall releases his solo debut. In many cases it's hard to differentiate the singer's solo offerings from those of Simply Red. This is as much due to the identifying tone and texture of a singer's voice as to the sound of the guitars, bass and drums, in addition to singers often being their band's main songwriter. The tone, mood, texture and songs found on a Tom Petty solo offering like Full Moon Fever
(MCA, 1989), for example, are virtually undistinguishable from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers releases.
Not necessarily so for Hucknall. On Tribute To Bobby, the singer pays tribute to Memphis R&B stalwart Bobby "Blue" Bland. It's an extraordinary CD, not only paying tribute to Bland but to the Memphis sound, while allowing Hucknall to forge his own relationship with the source material.
By stepping outside of the confines of Simply Red, Hucknall has given his Blue-Eyed Soul voice the chance to grow and experiment in ways not possible fifteen or even ten years ago. With any instrument, time adds to the timber and texture and Hucknall's voice is no different, with wisdom and experience providing greater maturity.
In order to sing real soul music, especially classic Memphis R&B and soul, the singer must have the right soundintense, earnest, heartfelt and sometimes a bit world-weary. Songs such as these require an authentic voice.
Here, Hucknall reinterprets twelve songs originally recorded by Bland, his distinctive voice and style giving the CD a flavor that is not quite Bland and definitely not Simply Red. It's still Blue-Eyed Soul and jazz-influenced Memphis R&B, but it is so much more, enhancing rather than losing the integrity of the original music.
The songs are treated well incorporating jazz on "Farther, On Up the Road," pop on "Chains Of Love," funky rock on "Stormy Monday Blues," gospel on "I'm Too Far Gone (To Turn Around)" and soul on "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog." "Cry, Cry, Cry" benefits from the organ and horns mix and almost has a Motown-meets-Memphis sound. "I Pity The Fool" is raw, angry, perfect and quite possibly the best performance on the CD.
Some might say that this disc isn't too much of a stretch for Hucknall. After all, Simply Red's biggest U.S. hits"If You Don't Know Me By Now" and "Holding Back the Years"had they been recorded by Bland, would have fit in perfectly on this CD. Additionally, some might also be of opinion that an album of classic tunes, sung by an artist with a twenty year pedigree, would have to be good. If it were only that easy, then everybody would be doing it.
The fact is that Hucknall has taken a chance. By recording well-known songs by an under-appreciated singer he has given Bland some additional exposure. Those who know the songs but not the singer might wish to further explore. Those who know neither but know Simply Red, will also hopefully explore. Hucknall has breathed new life into some old Memphis Soul.
Personnel: Mick Hucknall: vocals; Kenji Suzuki: guitar; David Clayton: clarinet, piano, keyboards, Hammond organ; Andy
Wright: bass, guitar, piano, keyboards, programming, background vocals, producer; Gavin Goldberg: guitar,
keyboards, programming, producer, engineer, mixing; John "Snakehips" Johnson: trombone; Ian Kirkham:
saxophone; Peter Lewinson: drums; Steve Lewinson: bass, double-bass; Jim McWilliam: strings; Kevin Robinson: