Wednesday, February 1, 2017

*Various Artists-American Idol Season 3: Greatest Soul Classics (2004)


Talk about a trip down memory lane! Hard to believe that it's already been a whole thirteen years since the third season of the highly-acclaimed reality television singing competition,"American Idol", dazzled the ears and captivated the hearts of millions of viewers across the country. Yet here we are in 2017, and while that third season—and the show altogether—have long been over, I have still found a way to keep myself all caught up in this star-studded phenomenon. That would be listening to this "Greatest Soul Classics" compilation, which features the thirteen Season 3 finalists, whose familiar faces you see pictured above on the album's cover artwork, delivering their best renditions of some of the most popular soul hits of our lifetime. Pleased to see that my #1 favorite on this compilation got the privilege of being perched in the opening track slot: Fantasia Barrino's "Chain Of Fools". It was, in fact, Fantasia's take on the Aretha Franklin classic that was the main reason why I wanted to have this CD in the first place. I wasn't even born yet when Aretha recorded her timeless funk-filled original, but I would enjoy it many years later into my adulthood once I really started to get into music from the older generation, getting drawn to the chorus where the backup vocalists sang 'chain-chain-chain' over and over in the chorus. Fast-forward to Fantasia's "American Idol" stardom, when I would be astounded by this contemporary remake as well; she just astounds me every time I hear her sing, often leading me to deem her as a modern-day Gladys Knight. Then speaking of that soul legend Gladys Knight, Jasmine Trias does a respectable cover of "Midnight Train To Georgia". Only thing missing is that 'woo-woo' in the chorus—where The Pips are making like the local express train—that I am so accustomed to hearing in Gladys Knight's original. I played that one after Fantasia's "Chain Of Fools", then followed up with another favorite soul classic of mine: "Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)". Have always loved thethe hook to this song when the title lyrics are delivered. Since I'm a child of the 80's, I quite naturally fell in love with the previous cover versions by soul queen Miki Howard and Polish singer Basia. This Camile Velasco version is nicely breezy and warming; it works just fine as a respectable contemporary offering. Simply amazing is George Huff's magical "Me And Mrs. Jones"; he totally captures the feeling and emotion of the famous Billy Paul original, leading me to recall being sometimes surprised by how soulful this guy is! "If You Don't Know Me By Now": I love every and all versions of this soul classic, particularly the SIMPLY RED version that I'd heard on the soft rock radio airwaves for more than a decade. It's forever that gripping hook: 'you will never, never, never know me', followed by that smooth 'oooh-oooh'..... LaToya London's silky sweet voice delivering the memorable words is a spectacle all in itself, and I adore her the most whenever her voice rises high or that momentary beat drop near the closing climactic movement . Love the beat drop part in the closing climactic movement. No memories of Jennifer Hudson performing "Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)", but I truly enjoyed this powerful, soul-shaking piece. She can make any song shake the soul, as I experienced firsthand from her performances in the subsequent motion picture she starred in, "Dreamgirls". Echoes of SIMPLY RED came back to me again on the Amy Adams beautiful interpretation of "You Make Me Feel Brand New". Had also thought about Roberta Flack's cover, which has been fresh on mind in light of my recent Roberta Flack indulgences where I would play that song multiple times while driving around in my car. John Peter Lewis put me in a sunny mood with his rendition of "My Girl", a true golden classic from great Motown songbook and one that I never get tired of. Was different hearing a lady perform "Betcha By Golly, Wow", but Leah Labelle wows anyhow with her equally warming, yet contemporary pop-style interpretation. just like "My Girl". Possibly by #2 favorite of this compilation is John Stevens performing another memorable Motown golden classic: "You Are Everything". I've heard so many versions of this, including the Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye duet, the Michael McDonald cover (on one of his own "Motown" compilations) and the Vanessa Williams cover, which I heard a lot on a former local smooth jazz radio station. John's tender vocals put a distinctive romantic spark on this song; he sure has that gentlemanly soul crooner's persona about him all throughout. Then the one I was definitely looking forward to: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". Here, a portion of the Season 3 idols take turns delivering parts of every verse before the other idols join in and sing the chorus. A upbeat and happy celebration of nothing in the world being able to keep them away from loving the objects of their affections—a perfect way to conclude their journey together on a high note:

1. Fantasia Barrino - Chain Of Fools
2. George Huff - Me And Mrs. Jones
3. Diana Degarmo - I Heard It Through The Grapevine
4. La Toya London - If You Don't Know Me By Now
5. Jennifer Hudson - Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)
6. Amy Adams - You Make Me Feel Brand New
7. Matt Rogers - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
8. Jasmine Trias - Midnight Train To Georgia
9. John Peter Lewis - My Girl
10. Camile Velasco - Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)
11. Leah Labelle - Betcha By Golly, Wow
12. John Stevens - You Are Everything
13. Ensemble - Ain't No Mountain High Enough

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