Angie Stone, "Covered in Soul" Album Review
There's a valid reason why cover albums are normally not a go for established, heavy-weight artists with above-average relevance in the scene. You either get an emerging artist with the ambition to attract some attention by showcasing their skills and versatility from re-imagining beloved-classics (like Roman GianArthur's mash-up album of D'Angelo and Radiohead from last year), or you get accomplished musicians in the latter part of their career whose success kinda doesn't depend on commercial performances at all anymore and essentially just want to sing a bunch of their favorites (like that Motown album by Boyz II Men from 2007), creative new renditions or not. Either way, it's not much of a career breakout move. Covered in Soul is clearly an example of the latter, except that it doesn't necessarily showcase much of the vocal abilities Stone has established a lengthy career off of, nor does it feature production value on-par with the industry standard or any cover of 70's classics that stand out.
Angie Stone is obviously a huge music fan. All old-school musicians who grew up surrounded by music and play music themselves are, and it makes sense that she wants to pay homage to the legends that inspired and influenced her and guided her to a prolific career. Not only did she perform songs by some obvious acts (Stevie Wonder, The Undisputed Truth), but there are some more obscure acts like Hot Chocolate and unlikely selections like Phil Collins and Neil Diamond whose songs got reworked on this album. The two opening songs are pretty solid products: On "These Eyes" by Canadian band The Guess Who, we see Stone morphing the joint into a groovy club joint accompanied by techno beats and electronic elements on top of her signature smokey vocals; "Smiling Faces Sometimes", originally by The Undisputed Truth, incorporates a similar dance-y production formula, Stone's easy vocals surrounded by contemporary percussions in a synth-y atmosphere, while the wah-wah guitar (which made the original song memorable) is maintained. After the two songs, the rest of the album almost immediately falls into a pit full of tired nostalgia and jaded second-hand performances. "In the Air Tonight" is probably my least favorite track off the album, and that takes a lot for someone who simply adores the Phil Collins classic to say. Same goes for pretty much the rest of the album, most of which are made up of unexcited vocals and repetitive instrumentation upon cheap-sounding production. "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)", cover of a not-quite-as-popular oldie by Stevie Wonder off his Talking Book album, is almost abysmal. It's hard to imagine what was going through Stone's head when they concluded the production of this song, being that it is as spiritless as it is rough in quality. The purposely slower pace of the cover does not bring in the swing and groove one had obviously hoped for; the song ends up sounding unpleasantly boisterous as the overly-used electronic sounds overshadow others. The lack of progression at some point makes the album sound like the whole team simply forfeited the recording session and said, "ok this isn't sounding as good as I thought let's just wrap it up". There is no rich vocal layering found anywhere near the album (a technique/quality essentially at the heart of the neo-soul brand of production), and the absence of real instruments results in the album sounding as artificial and empty as ever. Obviously there really isn't a formula that she needs to stick to, and the artist has all the freedom she wants to make music in any style as desired. But if the artist's original intent was to simply record these songs herself with very little effort or few special changes to offer, then it's hard to imagine why she even bothered to publish this material or sell it.
Aside from the music itself, there didn't seem to have been any news or rumors surrounding the album prior to its arrival. Makes you wonder if Stone herself and her team really believed this album was going to do well--or whether Stone even enjoyed making the album. There are some easy choices that could've been made that would've done nothing but benefit the album: maybe employ some real instrumentalists to play on the album; maybe have some backup vocals either from Angie or someone else; maaaaybe dump some of the noisy synths found on every single track. Either way, it doesn't matter. This album clearly wasn't created to make Angie Stone more accomplished, nor was it made to top the charts. She probably woke up one morning and thought, "hey I feel like I'm at a stage where I can just record a bunch of my favorite old songs and who knows, maybe publish them." All that being said, this really isn't a very good album, and Angie Stone fans probably just stick to her old, original material from the late 90's and early 2000's for now.