CARON WHEELER / “Another Star”
The second tier of Stevie Wonder compositions is deeper than the orchestra pit of most pop music. “Another Star” is an example of what I mean. This is not the best of Stevie but being way better than most, “Another Star” provides an excellent foundation for other artists to do their thing, regardless of the style of their thing. (In keeping with this week’s hip hop theme we feature the Caron Wheeler cut.)
Patrice Williamson is a Memphis-born jazz vocalist who is making her name in Boston. The way Ms. Williamson handles up on this, if you didn’t know better, it would be hard to believe that this song did not start off as a jazz instrumental, especially the way the tenor adroitly negotiates the changes and the way Patrice uses long tones on the “la-la” choruses. But then again, that’s a major part of Stevie’s genius, his music is both so humable and at the same time musically substantial. The band accompanying Ms. Williamson is Eric Byers-acoustic & electric guitar, Jason Hunter-tenor sax, Keala Kameheiwa-acoustic bass, Ron Savage-drums, Mark Shilansky-piano, and Kera Washington-percussion.
The Caron Wheeler joint is just some funky hip hop maximus with all kinds of stanky keys (synthesizer) touches, from a nasty keyboard bass line, to those descending clavinet riffs (at least I think it’s a clavinet, could easily be a Roland, anyway it’s an electronic keyboard), even the “acoustic keyboard” sounds electronic to me, but the point is not that it’s electronic, but rather that Stevie’s compositions provides all those interesting little counterpoint lines. Of course the focus of the piece is Caron’s soulful vocal work (with the Puffy-like hype man coolly dropping asides). I don’t know what the deal is, but I sure wish Caron would record more.
Salome de Bahia is from Brazil and hooked up with a France-based house label to come out with this thumping percussion-fest. As much as I really, really like the congas on this (and by the way don’t sleep on the jazzy guitar runs), nevertheless, it’s still the Salome show. Is it something about the Portuguese language that makes almost anything sound sexy—maybe all those soft sibilant sounds? Even when she’s singing full out there’s some warm and fuzzy about Salome’s style that gathers you up in a warm embrace. Of course it helps a whole lot that Salome can really sing a whole lot, and then on top of that the producer’s judiciously multi-track her voice. Mtume, I know how you feel about the thumping house beat, but you got to admit this one got something sweet going with it.
Stevie brings up the rear with a track from his Natural Wonder two-cd set that Motown released a few years back without much fanfare. So what we have is Stevie giving a live cover of a cut first featured on Songs In The Key Of Life. There are some great versions of Stevie hits on that release, but what I really want to point to is this: although one can deeply appreciate the diversity of these four very different versions of “Another Star,” when you get to the Stevie you get to a whole other level, plus Stevie is doing it live. All these other versions are studio versions: they could do all kinds of sweetening and mixing, multi-tracking and punching in notes and what not, they could keep recording until they got it just right, but Stevie is doing this stuff live: no re-takes, no mistakes, off-the-top on the one drop. Just listen to the thickness of the mix. Horns, strings, percussion, chorus, piano flourishes, Stevie’s great vocals and the absolute joy exuded by the band as they kick into overdrive on the out-choruses with the percussion break. This is absolute genius, make no mistake about it.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Patrice's version is a winner
Caron Wheeler drives me nuts. So much talent, such average records. I'm just not feeling it. Thing is, I don't think Caron's the problem. It's the production—the average, pedestrian, run-of-the-mill production. The track sounds so much like so many other tracks I've heard before, that it's hard for me to take it seriously at all. And, whoever that is doing the Puff Daddy talking-in-the-background thing is extremely annoying. It was annoying back when Puffy used to do it and, surprisingly enough, it's still annoying.
The Stevie live version is cool. I'm not crazy about it, but I like it. The Brazilian version could've been good. I wanted more percussion and maybe some horn solos or something. It was standing on the verge, I guess.
The one I actually like—a lot—is the Patrice Williamson version. The extreme tempo shift. The expressive instrumentation. The cool take on the vocals. Like Kalamu said, listening to Patrice's version, it's hard to tell that the song didn't start of as a jazz tune. It's a winner.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 4th, 2005 at 1:03 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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