KEVIN MAHOGANY / “Just My Imagination”
By now it is undoubtedly clear that Kalamu has an affinity for putting together a diverse grouping of artists covering the same song. Musical comparison and contrasts suits my eclectic tastes. This is the third week in a row we’re on a Motown tip and I don’t think it’s gone stale yet. The focus this time is “Just My Imagination,” the great song composed by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and first released on Sky’s the Limit (April 1971) by the Temptations. Although I’m a jazzhead by inclination, this set is mostly pop-oriented. There are a bunch of twists though, so you’ll probably need a chaser to get all of this down in one gulp—hence the last two tracks. (You’ll understand what I mean by and by.) 1. The Temptations - Motown Legends: The Temptations This is the gold standard—enough said. 2. Boyz II Men – Motown A Journey Through Hitsville USA I can’t tell if this is a homage or a heist! I mean, you can easily hear it’s not the Temps but it’s also obvious that some(young/black)bodies aspire to prove the crown could fit on their heads. I’m of two minds: sometimes I like this version, other times I loathe it. Ambiguity is inevitable on a project like this that hews so closely to the original. 3. The Delfonics – Live in Concert This ought to be issued with a warning sticker: “Old school when it’s really, really old.” I include this 2007 recording in the set precisely because it represents nostalgia: the good, the bad, the ugly, and (unfortunately) only echoes of what make "old skool" important in the first place. The Delfonics were one of the premiere male vocal groups with impeccable harmonies and soaring falsetto leads. Although the audience apparently loved this set, it’s more for the spirit and energy of the enterprise rather than the expertise. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not very good. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with having some fun even if we’re coming down the rough side of the mountain. 4. Lloyd Charmers – Trojan Soulful Reggae Box Set Some original lovers rock from back in the day, smooth as the sand on a sunny day in Montego Bay. This could have been the b-side of the original. Don’t know much about Charmers except that he was a session musician on a handful of tracks by better known reggae artists such as Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths. 5. Jazz Jamaica – Motorcity Roots I love the arrangement, the unison horn parts, the bubbling rhythm section. The sound of young love. (For more on Jazz Jamaica see the Contemporary section.) 6. A-Sides featuring MC Fats – A-Sides EP (Eastside Records) This Jungle (drum ‘n bass) version has no intentions of going to Motown. This is club-hopping for the hard core with all the enthusiasm of the first two hours of a 24-hour dance marathon. Talk about getting hype. A-Sides (aka Jason Cambridge) is a veteran British DJ who has produced over 500 recordings. MC Fats is obviously going to keep his day job rather than pursue a singing career but, man, he sure can buck up a dance floor. 7. Terry Callier – Speak Your Peace Burnished old school baritone vocal stylings mated to down-tempo electronica produces a version that’s beautifully bizarre—sounds almost like it was recorded on Mars. Notice the music bed is just beats, horn riffs and electronic atmosphere with a closing tenor sax lick. 8. Will Downing – A Twist of Motown Less radical than Callier’s version, Will Downing gives us a hip-hop influenced reading that is distinguished by some soulful falsetto work from Downing who usually stays in the basement with his vocal stylings. If you liked the Boyz II Men, you’ll love this. 9. Walter 'Wolfman' Washington – Best of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, Volume 2 Wolfman is a locally famous fixture on the New Orleans music scene. An awesome blues guitarist who is also top tier as a vocalist. This man has an elastic voice that can cover an unbelievably wide range. Plus, Walter is a quintessential entertainer. He can do vocal impersonations all night long. Here, he offers us only a peek at the stylings he can mimic. You ought to hear him at two in the morning after all the squares have gone; talk about getting down. I missed many, many hours of sleep thanks to Walter 'Wolfman' Washington. 10. Wallace Roney – Mystikal I decided to include this instrumental version not just because it offers a change up but also because it’s deep. Roney can channel Miles better than Miles. What Roney achieves here is a blue deeptitude; a most serious introspective, brooding groove that is noir-ishly cinematic. 11. Kevin Mahogany – Pride & Joy This is my favorite. This is also the third week in a row I’ve dropped a track from Mahogany's great Pride & Joy album. Kevin Mahogany has graced us with one of the best Motown tribute albums ever, period! By now you should have gotten the message. Soul alert: you are listening to a mandatory recording. —Kalamu ya Salaam The only ones I really like Boyz II Men - Am I possibly actually enjoying a Boyz II Men record? Is this really happening? Kalamu said he sometimes loves this record and sometimes loathes it. Me, I'm having to admit that I'm kinda digging it and loathing myself for going even that far. But damn if it ain't tuneful. Thumbs up. The Delfonics - Baba, come on. This is terrible. Be for real. Lloyd Charmers - Now we're talking! Although honestly, I shouldn't be allowed to comment on reggae covers of soul records. I'm a sucker for the genre as a whole. It has to be really bad for me not to like it. This one's a winner. ... And by the way, I don't know a whole hell of a lot about Charmers either, but on Trojan's Motor City Reggae box set he has a great (and at times, hilarious) cover of Marvin's classic "Let's Get It On." Jazz Jamaica - Right from the giddy-up, you have to like the bassline. This is the first version where the performers actually did something with the arrangement. I'm digging this. ... Whoah! No!!! What's with the singing?! I'm sorry, but that's a strictly unserviceable falsetto. Way to ruin a great instrumental, Mr. Not Very Good Falsetto Singer. A-sides feat. MC Fats - Umm...what? Dude is "singing" just the chorus over what sounds like an old Soul II Soul beat. I'll pass. Terry Callier - OK, Terry's the man, so I'm expecting something good. I've heard a lot of tracks from this album, but never the whole thing, so this version is new to me. ... Hmm. Terry's in fine voice, as usual. But. But..., I don't know. Something's not working. Maybe the stop-time drums are the problem. I don't know. I feel like I should like this one, but I just don't. Will Downing - If I liked the Boyz II Men, I'll like this one, huh? I kinda did, so.... Naa. This takes the whole smoothed-out "grown and sexy" thing a little too far. The original is a great, great song. The lyrics are heartbreaking. But this version make it sound like nursery rhymes. Pass. 'Wolfman' Washington - It's OK. One problem I'm noticing is too many people are sticking too close to the original arrangment and tempo and everything. The original recording is a stone cold classic that I know practically by heart. So why am I listening to other people singing the record in the same damn style of the classic? ... Wait a second. Wolfman just started doing his vocal impersonation thing of various (and I quote) artistses. That part's not half bad. It's funny and it's impressive. Doesn't make this a good cover though. Pass! Wallace Roney - Come on, Wallace. We need help. Whatcha got? ... Not bad, not bad. I like it. The strings (or "strings," I should say) are annoying though. And no, Wallace doesn't play ballads anywhere near as pretty as Miles. Kevin Mahogany - What a voice. I liked what I heard from this dude last week (a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered") and I like this one too. Very good. Baba, you're definitely featuring the right version. Usually, you come up with a consistently good mix of covers. This week...I don't know. The only ones I really like are Charmers and Mahogany. —Mtume ya Salaam
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