Lionel Richie revisits his roots in more ways than one with “Tuskegee,” a new duets album featuring the music icon performing his classic hits primarily with contemporary country stars.
Named for his Alabama hometown, “Tuskegee” is hardly Richie's first foray into country music. He and Kenny Rogers deliver a stellar duet version of “Lady,” the 1980 hit for the country crooner that Richie wrote and produced. “Deep River Woman,” which Richie recorded with vocal group Alabama in 1987, sounds even better when his butter-rich tones are folded into the gorgeous harmonies of country quartet Little Big Town.
Despite the cliche concept of pairing a veteran performer and his old standards with young guns eager to pay homage, “Tuskegee” mostly succeeds because it keeps the familiar melodies intact, lightly applies the country flourishes and most importantly, carefully matches the newcomers with the best material. After all, if you're going to swap Diana Ross with a country diva for a new version of “Endless Love,” it's hard to imagine a better fit than Shania Twain.
Willie Nelson's laid-back attitude makes him an ideal choice for “Easy,” plus the country legend's rough-hewed voice provides an interesting contrast to Richie's sonic silkiness, while Blake Shelton's smooth baritone complements the pop singer's velvety crooning on “You Are.”
Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles unleashes her huge vocals on the power ballad “Hello,” while Southern rocker Jason Aldean reaffirms his skills as a sweet-tongued balladeer on a twangy rendition of “Say You, Say Me.” Rascal Flatts, which includes Picher-bred guitarist Joe Don Rooney, brings plenty of energy to the party song “Dancing on the Ceiling.”
Not every collaboration works. Richie and Darius Rucker can't get their harmonies quite right on “Stuck on You.” And Jimmy Buffett seems a perfect choice for “All Night Long,” but even the Coral Reefer Band's insistent steel drums can't set the Chief Parrothead at ease with the song.
The deluxe edition includes a 30-minute DVD with behind-the-scenes footage of the recording sessions and interviews.
— Brandy McDonnell