When I was a mere 10 years old I found Lionel Richie almost inescapable. I wasn’t a fan – was more of a pop/rock guy at the time – and it seemed like his music was everywhere. From Toronto Rocks and Video Hitz to the CHUM 30 Countdown, you couldn’t avoid the numerous singles from his 1983 Can’t Slow Down album. I guess that’s what happens when an album produces five top-10 singles and stays in the Billboard Top-10 albums for 59 consecutive weeks spanning 1984 in its entirety, and then some.
Sure there was a huge follow-up album, 1986’s Dancing On The Ceiling, but then Richie all but disappeared. He’d pop up here and there but the former Commodore was pretty much MIA for the last 25 years or so.
This week Richie returns with Tuskegee, named after the town in Alabama where he was born. The album sees Richie reinventing some of his greatest hits as duets with some of the biggest names in country music. Lionel Richie does country music? Apparently he grew up in the U.S. South listening to nothing but American country music, so naturally, he would know how to play it, right?
Not so fast, Lionel. Simply adding a country vocalist or swapping out horns and strings for slide and organ doesn’t turn a song like “Dancing On The Ceiling” in to a Grand Ole Opry classic. Even with country superstars like Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw joining Richie on vocals, the album sounds contrived and forced at times. The duets concept only really works on some of Richie’s ballads like“Hello”, reimagined with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, or when Richie and his partner play up his R&B/soul roots like on “Stuck On You” featuring Darius Rucker of Hootie And The Blowfish fame.
One of this biggest misses on the album is a reworked version of “Endless Love” with Shania Twain reprising the role of Diana Ross on the original. Why bother re-recording this classic duet with a new partner who doesn’t come close to measuring up to the sentiment of the original…it just doesn’t make sense, especially since the musical arrangement doesn’t stray too far from the original.
If you’re thinking that Lionel and friends grab a guitar and sit on the porch singing some of his greatest hits, you’re going to be very disappointed with this album. If you just want to rediscover some of the biggest hits of the last 30 years and remind yourself why Lionel Richie was once mentioned in the same breath of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and the legends of Motown, then throw this on and remember what it was like to hope for someone to knock Lionel off the charts back in 1984.