Smokey Robinson sings with friends on his brand new duets album, Smokey & Friends!

Hi folks. I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post. I’ve been busy with this move from Texas to Germany and am still sitting in temporary lodging. Fortunately, I still have Internet access and was lucky enough to score a review copy of Smokey Robinson’s new album, Smokey & Friends!

Smokey Robinson has had a very long and successful career in the music business. At age 74, his voice is still in great shape as he collaborates with an eclectic variety of rock star notables on Smokey & Friends. Though I can’t yet count myself among his most ardent fans, I do enjoy some of his best known hits as well as the songs he wrote for others. I had the chance to listen to Smokey & Friends yesterday morning and I really enjoyed it.

On this video by the Associated Press, Smokey Robinson talks about how this project came to be.

Smokey & Friends consists of eleven tracks written by Smokey Robinson and includes duets by everyone from Mary J. Blige to James Taylor. This new album was produced by American Idol star and record producer Randy Jackson. The production on Smokey & Friends is a bit on the slick side for my usual tastes; on the other hand, it was pretty good morning music and helped me wake up.

A jaunty organ solo kicks off the first song, “Tracks of My Tears”, which is a collaboration between Smokey Robinson and Elton John. I have always liked this song and I think Smokey and Elton work well together, although I must admit that at first, I thought Elton was Van Morrison. His voice has deepened a bit and, on this song, it almost sounds like he has an Irish accent. It wasn’t until Elton cut loose on the chorus that I recognized his voice. Still, it’s a strong effort and I like it.

Elton John talks about making his duet with Smokey Robinson.

Steven Tyler was a great choice for the next song, “You Really Got A Hold On Me”. This sounds like a song Aerosmith could have easily covered. This rendition has edgy guitars that give it a straight rock sound. It works very well, although Smokey’s vocal contributions are less obvious on this track.

Next comes a very smooth and sweet rendition of “My Girl” featuring Smokey Robinson singing with Miguel, Aloe Blacc, and JC Chasez. Although I am very partial to The Temptations’ famous cover of Smokey’s song, this is a really pleasant, soulful version of “My Girl”. As I listened to these guys singing together, I was reminded of Daryl Hall and I kind of wondered why he’s not on this record too. Their voices blending together reminded me of classic Hall & Oates.

I first heard of Jessie J. when she was featured at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I thought she had a pretty powerful voice during that performance. Singing “Cruisin'” here with Smokey Robinson, she offers even more power and soul. Before the song begins, Jessie J. explains that she first heard Smokey sing when she was 7 years old and that singing with him is “a dream come true”. “Cruisin'” happens to be one of my favorite songs by Smokey Robinson. To my ears, this version doesn’t surpass Smokey’s original, but I am impressed by the vocal chemistry Jessie J and Smokey Robinson have.

I wasn’t familiar with “Quiet Storm” before I listened to this duet version, featuring John Legend. Legend and Robinson work well together on this relaxing, jazzy number; now I’m curious about the original.

I had no idea that “The Way You Do The Things You Do” was a Smokey Robinson creation. Here, he sings it with CeeLo Green. I like this updated version of “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, which gives CeeLo Green the chance to show off his rich, warm vocals.

The cool, sensual “Being With You” is another one of my favorite songs by Smokey Robinson. Mary J. Blige offers a sexy counterpart to Smokey Robinson’s silky voice. Though this song was originally a solo, it works great as a duet.

I love James Taylor’s music and I know that he has a special fondness in his heart for classic hits from the 50s and 60s. “Ain’t That Peculiar” gets a Taylor makeover on Smokey & Friends, which is arranged a bit like Taylor’s most recent recordings. When this song started, I was immediately reminded of the songs on October Road. He uses lots of organ, electric guitars, and an interesting rhythm. He definitely made it his own, which I respect. It sounds like they had a lot of fun with it.

Sheryl Crow gamely takes a turn with “The Tears of A Clown”, another classic Robinson hit. This is a solid effort; Sheryl Crow has a less tremulous quality to her voice that balances well with Smokey’s voice. Plus, I really like the song itself; it’s one of those numbers that never gets old.

“Ooh Baby Baby” begins with an introduction by Ledisi, who joins Smokey on this very sexy hit. I have to admit, when it comes to cover versions of “Ooh Baby Baby”, I’m kind of partial to Linda Ronstadt’s take. Ledisi and Smokey Robinson give their duet more of a quiet sensuality and warmth than Ronstadt’s more torch like presentation. It’s appealing and entertaining and I can tell Ledisi is really into it.

The last song is “Get Ready”, a great song for the morning if I ever heard one. Gary Barlow and Smokey Robinson update this into an exciting and hard driving rock song. I think they did a great job updating this hit and I really like it. It’s a great way to close out Smokey & Friends. This arrangement almost has an element of danger to it, which breathes new life into a true classic.

Smokey and his friends did fine work with Smokey & Friends. I enjoyed listening to these duet renditions of Smokey Robinson’s classic hits and am very impressed by how great Smokey still sounds after all his years in the music business. This album also reminds me that Smokey Robinson is a great songwriter and inspires me to listen to more of his work. I know I already turned on one of his fans to this latest effort and I hope some of you out there will also give it a spin!

Trailer for Smokey & Friends… a great place to hear some samples from this record.

Smokey & Friends (Audio CD)

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