Thursday, February 02, 2006

Stevie Wonder - A Time To Love (2005)

Those of you who saw the movie High Fidelity may recall the moment when Barry, played hysterically by Jack Black, humiliated both Stevie Wonder’s 1980s music and a customer who came in the used record store wanting a copy of Wonder’s huge 80s hit, "I Just Called To Say I Love You." It was a very funny scene based around a music snob's opinion that Stevie Wonder's 80s music doesn't compare favorably with his seventies output. Despite the laughs generated from Barry’s outburst, Wonder's career is not one that should be made light of because even his 80s music is still head and shoulders above most other artist’s work.

I don’t believe I am exaggerating at all by stating that Wonder's albums, beginning with 1970's Where I'm Coming From and continuing through 1980's Hotter Than July, earn him a place as one of the top five artists of the entire decade. His love songs always had beautiful melodies even if his lyrics leaned toward greeting card sentimentality at times. His funky side and his soulful political and social commentary have always been excellent. He began to slip after Hotter Than July because his extensive usage of synthesizers and drum machines turned him into a one man band that washed all arranging from his music. Sameness started to creep in.

Fortunately Motown’s greatest artist has finally returned after a ten year hiatus with A Time To Love, Wonder’s freshest and best work since Hotter Than July. The new CD is a great combination of every style Wonder has to offer. There are more love songs (“Moon Blue,” Sweetest Somebody I know,” and “From The Bottom Of My Heart”) than social commentary and funky stuff (“So What The Fuss” and the uplifting “Positivity”) but it is all very well done. Wonder is an instrumental virtuoso who gets more varied and original sounds out of his array of keyboards and electronics than most prog-rockers. He still plays most instruments himself but he is also using a band again on many tracks which may be the reason A Time To Love sounds more like his old 70s self. His vocals are still as strong as they were twenty-five years ago.

Guest vocalists include India.Arie and Wonder’s daughter, Aisha Morris, who was the subject of “Isn’t She Lovely.” Instrumental guest stars include Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Paul McCartney, and Hubert Laws.

It’s great to have Stevie Wonder recording again and in classic form. Jack Black needs to shut up now.

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