Album Remarks & Appraisals:
All About Jazz - Jeff Winbush
New urban jazz keyboardist Bob Baldwin disdains the "smooth jazz" moniker, but that doesn't necessarily mean he isn't familiar with the conventions of the genre. He's got ideas that don't have a thing to do with cranking out infinite versions of the same old sound with a few new riffs. Baldwin is a bit more ambitious than that and with Betcha By Golly Wow: The Songs of Thom Bell he honors one of the most successful songwriters of 1970s soul music.
Though not intended as the successor to Baldwin's last tribute recording, Never Can Say Goodbye: A Tribute to Michael Jackson (Trippin n' Rhythm, 2010), the new album is tighter and more focused than last year's Re-Vibe (Trippin n' Rhythm, 2011) which meandered at over 70 minutes in length. Here Baldwin is working with superior material from Bell (and his collaborator, the late Linda Creed) and the results are reproductions that pay respectful homage to the originals even if they don't quite match them.
Most of Bell's biggest hits are included. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," "Betcha By Golly Wow" and "People Make the World Go Round" became staples of soul music when The Delfonics and The Stylistics performed them and Baldwin's interpretation augments his keyboards with contributions from guitarists Russ Freeman and saxophonists Gerald Albright, Marion Meadows and Paul Taylor, among other guest musicians and vocalists. ... read more...
Audio Mixer: Bob Baldwin.
Recording information: Elmsford, NY; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles, CA; Maui, HI; NewUrbanJazz.com Studios, New York, NY.
Given songwriter and producer Thom Bell's legendary reputation, it's difficult to believe that this is the first contemporary jazz record to pay tribute to his work. Co-produced by Bob Baldwin, Will Downing, and former Bell sideman Preston Glass, Betcha by Golly Wow is a second chapter for Baldwin and Downing; the first was Never Can Say Goodbye: A Tribute to Michael Jackson in 2009. As has been typical of his own recordings for the past two decades, Baldwin plays multiple instruments, from drums and bass to keyboards. The three producers have enlisted a star-studded cast to create a seamless, warm, and elegant selection of Bell tunes. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," features Russ Freeman's guitar holding court on the melody. Ragan Whiteside and Paul Brown -- on flutes and guitars respectively -- funk things up a bit on "The Rubberband Man," with Baldwin's piano slipping the lyric line in between in the stepping groove. Vivian Green's vocals grace a fine reading of "La-La Means I Love You." Gerald Albright, Downing, and Baldwin reprise their cover of "Break Up to Make Up" from 1993. Downing's voice may be a bit lower 20 years later, but it's lost none of its expressiveness. A sweet, uptempo reading of "I'll Be Around" features the soprano saxophone of Marion Meadows, as does the closer "People Make the World Go Round," played as an elegant groover. The latter features some lovely piano work by Baldwin.The only cut that doesn't work here is "Bell & Creed," an overly sentimental tribute to the songwriter and producer Linda Creed, Bell's production partner at Philly International. That small hiccup aside, this is a well-arranged, nicely selected collection of some of Bell's finest tunes, performed by some of contemporary jazz's best. ~ Thom Jurek