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Soul Express CD of the Month - June 2010

The Temptations: Still Here

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Still Here
US Universal Music CD, 2010
1) Still Here (Prelude) 2) Change Has Come 3) One Of A Kind Lady 4) Let Me Catch Your Diamonds 5) Hold Me 6) Warm Summer Nights 7) First Kiss 8) Shawtyismygirlooyeah 9) Still Here With Me 10) Soul Music 11) Woman 12) Listen Up 13) Going Back Home 14) Still Here (Reprise)

The last two albums by The Temptations were all-cover sets, but now the group takes again the brave attemp to record nothing but new songs. With their track record, it is not an easy task to record new material that would match their classics, but I'm glad they at least try, instead of taking the easy road of recording yet another albumful of cover tunes.

Johnny Britt of Impromp2 fame has contributed three songs on the album, plus the opening prelude and the closing reprise. Anyone who remembers Impromp2 performing Change Comin’ on their superb The Definition Of Love album in 2003 knows that Johnny Britt is capable of creating classic Norman Whitfield-type Temptations production, so I guess Johnny Britt was an ideal producer for the group, and my only complaint is that why didn't he produce all the tracks!

The current line-up of the group features Bruce Williamson on lead vocals, and he already demonstrated on the group's previous album Back to Front that he has a rough baritone voice not too unsimilar to Dennis Edwards. Ron Tyson continues as the falsetto singer, being perfectly able to follow the classic style of Eddie Kendricks tradition. The band leader Otis Williams is the only original member, of course, and Terry Weeks and Joe Herndon complete the current Temptations.

A couple of tracks on the album (Listen up, Change Has Come) try to repeat the psychedelic and rocky sound (and socially conscious lyrics) that the group was performing in the late 60s and early 70s, and while these tracks have received positive comments elsewhere on the Web, I have to admit that they are not my favorite cuts on the album. Personally, I have always appreciated more of the group's early 70s period with Norman Whitfield's more orchestrated arrangements, or their funkier style in the mid-70s (1990, A Song for You albums), but if you like a more aggressive and rock-inclined approach, you may appreciate the "progressive" style that relatively unknown Alabama songwriters named James Yerby and Shaun Peznat have produced here.

Johnny Britt has co-written and co-produced three tracks together with Otis Williams, and these three certainly represent more of the sound I'd rather hear from the Temptations today. One Kind of a Lady features Johnny Britt himself blowing the trumpet and flugelhorn, following the tradition of Papa Was a Rollin' Stone, but in a more modern, bass-driven setting. Bobby English plays tenor and alto sax. This is excellent, Impromp2 meets Temptations sound of 2010.

Let Me Catch Your Diamonds is another personal favorite, a great melodious mid-tempo swayer with Britt and English again colouring the background with trumpet and saxes. The third Britt contribution, a midtempo ballad titled Hold Me starts in a Barry White -type of monologue (by Bruce Williamson) and then continues in a more typical Temptations vocal group style. Yet another classy track in a faithful Temptations tradition.

However, the previously mentioned Alabama writers James Yerby and Shaun Pezant have composed and co-produced (together with Michael Panepento) no more than eight tracks on the album, and obviously these guys try to update the Temptations sound, even by using Auto-Tune (Auto-Tune uses a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances), which really is a shame! Luckily, on the ballads they try to follow a more traditional Temptations style, and the producers use Kelley O'Neal as a sax player to colour the otherwise programmed settings. The prime track by this team is a track entitled Soul Music, which is a colourfully sung and sax-drenched mid-tempo tune. Not a new classic, but a nice performance anyway.

Of course, I don't even claim that this album would equal to any of the truly classic Temptations albums, but I'm still satisfied that the group at least tries to create new classics instead of just cover some old classics. Let's just wish that Johnny Britt gets more tracks to produce the next time!
- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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