Smokey & Friends seems like it's as much an American Idol judges and mentors project -- or a sequel to Randy Jackson's Music Club -- than a celebration of Smokey Robinson's career. Produced by Jackson, Smokey duets with his guests on fresh versions of popular compositions he wrote during the early '60s through the early '80s, popularized by Smokey himself -- with and without the Miracles -- or other artists, namely the Temptations and Marvin Gaye. The array of vocal matchups alternates between suitable and, yeah, peculiar. Smokey gets the best results with the veteran R&B women, Ledisi ("Ooh Baby Baby") and Mary J. Blige ("Being with You"), while pairings with the likes of Elton John ("The Tracks of My Tears") and James Taylor ("Ain't That Peculiar") are livelier than expected. The noteworthy guests aren't limited to singers. Among the backing musicians are Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, John Mayer, Cornelius Mims, Jim Keltner, and Jackson himself. The instrumental support is mostly middle-of-the-road adult contemporary R&B without any conscious attempt to sound retro. ~ Andy Kellman
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