Huey Lewis and the News
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
Huey Lewis and the News haven’t made an album in nearly a decade. But for a few years during the ‘80s, they were one of the highest-grossing and best-selling acts on the planet, with songs like “I Want a New Drug” and “The Power of Love” that were not only well-crafted and catchy, but were superbly produced and performed.
The News today is mostly intact, and on the band’s new CD, Soulsville, the absence of original guitarist Chris Hayes and bassist Mario Cipollina isn’t even conspicuous, as this is an album Lewis could have made with pretty much anyone. A solid collection of 14 tunes from the Stax/Volt heyday, this album, recorded in Memphis, covers some great songs while paying tribute to that groundbreaking sound and the writers who changed the shape of music with what became R&B and soul classics.
Wisely, Lewis went for songs that are a little more obscure or don’t get a lot of airplay on oldies stations these days, and didn’t try to cover songs like “Try a Little Tenderness” or “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” The playlist includes Bert Berns’ “Cry to Me,” originally recorded by Solomon Burke, who recently passed away; the Staples Singers classic “Respect Yourself,” written by R&B legends Mack Rice and Luther Ingram; Rufus Thomas’ “Little Sally Walker;” and the late Isaac Hayes’ title track from the soundtrack of Shaft, a social commentary about the plight of southern urban African-Americans that was ahead of its time.
If this record is a reminder of anything from those days, though, it’s what an incredible contribution Steve Cropper has made to the evolution of music in America. Cropper, a Nashville resident these days, is a co-writer on no less than four of the songs on this CD, and probably played guitar (and maybe even some piano) on the original versions of most of them. Lewis performs Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It,” which Pickett and Cropper wrote; Johnnie Taylor’s “Just the One (I’ve Been Looking For),” written by Cropper and Eddie Floyd; Otis Redding and Cropper’s wonderful ballad “Just One More Day;” and Cropper and Al Bell’s instrumental “Grab This Thing,” which isn’t as well-known as Booker T and the MGs’ “Green Onions,” but still a good example of what the Stax/Volt sound was all about: simplicity, groove and emotion.
Original News tenor man and arranger Johnny Colla is still on board with the band, and he does a great job of capturing the vibe and parts of the Memphis Horns. And Lewis doesn’t let us forget that he’s still a pretty good harp player, turning in a sweet performance on the Joe Tex tune “I Want To (Do Everything For You).” Tasty stuff, from a group of guys who clearly revere this material and do their best to catch the vibe.
If you’re a fan of the Memphis music of the ‘60s, and/or Huey Lewis, this album is a good bet. Soulsville won’t be on the charts long in this day and age, but its songs are timeless, and Lewis and his band do a nice job of paying homage to the music of this bygone era and its creators.