Album Reviews: Blue by Diana RossOK, folks, seriously, enough with the standards. At some point, these songs should be retired like jersey numbers on a sports team -- hung from the rafters, never to be worn by new players. The fear, of course, is that new generations will be introduced to "the great American songbook" by Rod Stewart and Queen Latifah instead of Billie Holiday. On the other hand, who can resist hearing Diana Ross or Smokey Robinson taking a spin through some old chestnuts?
The hook with Blue is that it isn't a newly recorded bandwagon jump; instead, it was made by Ross after she made the film Lady Sings the Blues (in which she played Holiday). It's billed as a "discovery" or a "lost" album, which is bullshit -- it was a shelved album, locked away when her label decided to keep Ross in the lucrative R&B and pop fields in which she found enduring, tremendous success. Regardless, it's still an unheard album for most of us, and, despite some shortcomings, it's a treat; in fact, those shortcomings may make Blue even more endearing to Ross fans who have been accustomed to hearing her always operate within her comfort zone. One critic was shocked by the inclusion of a cracked note on "Love Is Here To Stay," which raises a generational dilemma: Is it a service or disservice to use modern technology to iron out the bumps and wrinkles in our back pages? Clearly, those seeking for airbrushed sterility or technical vocal mastery will want to avoid Blue; Ross could play Holiday, but there was never any question that she could be Holiday.
Since the definitive versions have already been recorded, it's imperative for "new" versions to put on their own spin, however subtle. For Ross, this means an emphasis on her crystal clear tone and her airy playfulness. The latter is best embodied on the lively "Let's Do It."
A quartet of bonus tracks, recorded but ultimately cut from the film and the never-released soundtrack, are a great enhancement. Even while Ross doesn't have the range of the genre's giants, she is still plenty versatile. "Easy Living" is a smoky jazz number, "Solitude" is a fragile torch song and "T'Aint Nobody's Bizness If I Do" is a jaunty toe-tapper that finds Ross using her supreme cool and unforced sass to deliver lines like "I swear I won't call no coppa / If I'm beat up by my poppa." History, even in its most time-honored corners, isn't always pretty -- and that's worth remembering, not cleaning up. -Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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