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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easily Surpasses 'The Great American Songbook' Series, November 3, 2009
This review is from: Soulbook (Audio CD)
While the general consensus by Rod Stewart fans may be that they'd much rather hear a new album of Rod Stewart original as opposed to countless volumes of covers, on Soulbook, Rod Stewart sounds much more natural than he did on any of 'The Great American Songbook' series. Maybe it is because Stewart reigned in a time where music was more universal (the 1970s) - where soul was met with wide reception by rock stars/rock fans and rock was met with wide reception by soul stars/soul fans. Trivializations aside, SOULBOOK has greater vitality than his past series, even if ultimately the rock star brings nothing 'new' to these great, vintage classics.

The album opens up convincingly with "Same Old Song", which suits Stewart's smokey vocals well. On the Stevie Wonder featuring "My Cherie Amour", Stewart also sounds convincing, never overshadowing the original, of course. His duet with Mary J. Blige on "You Make Me Feel Brand New" is the first true showstopper of the album, finding Stewart achieving some 'grit' within his vocals. Cynics might say that singing with a powerhouse such as Blige, he 'had to sang!'

On "Your Love (Keeps Lifting Me Higher)", cynics must quiet down as it easily ranks as one of the best solo performances of the album. "Tracks of My Tears" doesn't fall flat at all as Stewart gives the easily recognizable Smokey Robinson classic just treatment. Even better is his fine duet with Grammy-/Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson on "Let It Be Me".

"Rainy Night In Georgia" isn't too shabby, though it isn't nearly as great as the very best in my opinion ("You Make Me Feel Brand New", "Your Love (Keeps Lifting Me Higher)", and "Let I Be Me"). One of my personal favorite soul songs "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" makes up for any laxness on "Georgia" (which is good, mind you) and finds Stewart channelling Jimmy Ruffin confidently - well as confidently as possible when covering one of soul's greatest songs.

"Love Train" is solid, though the listener feels this isn't as 'legitimate' a cover as some. "You've Really Got a Hold On Me" is a slight departure from the original, bringing some freshness to 'Soulbook'. "Wonderful World" proves enjoyable, while "If You Don't Know Me By Now" also deviates slightly harmonically from the original Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes tune (or the later cover by Simply Red), much like the slight alterations of "You've Really Got a Hold On Me". While I won't say its better than Seal's cover from his fine, yet underrated Soul album, it is strong. "Just My Imagination" ends the album on a high note.

Overall, Stewart has produced a strong covers album, even if it is 'middle of the road' to some extent. Either way, I'm just glad to hear Stewart still singing in his 60s. 4 stars.
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