Lionel Richie is more than just a pop/soul music legend. He also might be the most genuinely nice man in entertainment. Some called him corny…they really meant to say classy. The guy has sold millions of records for decades since 1968. From the Commodores to still looking like a young man at 62, Richie is not arrogant or cocky, he’s humble and kind…he’s Lionel. So it’s no wonder a man like this doesn’t forget where he’s come from and his roots. So with that comes Tuskegee, an album named after his hometown in Alabama. An album of country versions of his classic hits with some of the genre’s most iconic artists from Shania Twain to Kenny Rogers.
This really makes for some classic Rock N Roll crossover. Lionel’s favourite hits have always had more to them than just being soul records. With their rock and pop elements, they are tailor made like a good pair of jeans for an envelope-pushing change of genre, and the stars of America’s country music help bring the best out of the best of Lionel. Blake Shelton comes out of the gates with Richie on the signature You Are, before the Oscar-winning White Nights movie song Say You, Say Me is given extra gold with Jason Aldean. Things get real reinventing with Daris Rucker on the sublime Stuck On You, which is a great modern remix of the traditional classic.
Little Big Town join Lionel’s new, big country home on the decedent Deep River Woman before Kevin Chesney gives My Love some more heart. This album from the smooth singer may be even more laid back with its stetson-low, boots-up country feel, but the funky singer still knows how to start a party. There’s still Dancing On The Ceiling All Night Long courtesy of some help from Rascal Flatts and Jimmy Buffett and Coral Reefer Band respectively. Starting a barn burner of a party, Lionel still knows how to step in the name of love and cut a rug, even if it involves a little bit of line dancing…’Lionel Dancing’ anybody?
If that’s too corny, Lionel’s massive hit Hello is greeted with a complete reinvention with Jennifer Nettles, waving off notions that you can’t completely rework a classic and sing it in a whole, new way. Lionel really brings out the big guns on Sail On with Tim McGraw who really has shown his appreciation and love for Lionel and his inspiration during their studio sessions. Tim’s a man who goes diamond in the country like it was nothing with his billboard sales. Then Lionel welcomes Shania Twain back (check the sessions) with a beautiful version of Endless Love. Stepping into Diana Ross’ shoes, this really sounds like a Shania record that could have been on the massive, groundbreaking album Come On Over, but truly it’s all Lionel.
Still, however, Just For You, now with Billy Currington, just may be the best track on record here. Before Lionel really makes his country legacy legendary with Kenny Rogers (Lady) and the wonderful Willie Nelson on a harder version of Easy. This truly makes this album even greater than it is. Sure, it may be missing a Norah Jones or two, but what more could you want from a man who hasn’t forgotten his roots and in return a set of artists who have not ignored his devotion? Sure, nothing beats what came first in Lionel’s original classics, but these refreshing reworkings are exactly that…original, and this makes everything sound so much better here. Lionel Richie knows where he’s going with his legacy-lasting music because he’s never forgotten where he’s come from…’Tuskegee’. TIM DAVID HARVEY.