by Michael P. Coleman
Duet albums appear to be all the rage this fall. Barbra Streisand scored a #1 album with her recent collection of duet versions of her hits. On the other end of the spectrum, Barry Manilow just released an album featuring his vocals electronically paired with the voices of deceased legends like Sammy Davis, Jr., Frankie Lymon, and Louis Armstrong.
Blessedly, Dionne Warwick wasn’t a candidate for the latter project, and few singers perform a duet as well as she does. As such, her excellent new Feels So Good album, featuring duets of primarily her own material, has more in common with Babs’ new album than Barry’s.
Overall, Warwick’s done a great job of choosing duet partners, joining forces with singers who are still breathing, and who help her breathe new life into chestnuts from her catalog, while helping her span generations and genres.
A couple of the new duets ARE dead on arrival, including (surprisingly) her duet with fellow legend Gladys Knight on Warwick’s Grammy-winning “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” It’s great to hear the divas together in the studio again, but despite their best efforts, the two simply cannot come close to the magic of Dionne’s original. Ditto with Warwick’s duet with Jamie Foxx on the Grammy-winning “Deja Vu.” Although Warwick’s voice isn’t quite as supple as it used to be, Foxx was still in WAY over his head to step into a recording studio with the legend, especially to record a song that was written expressly for her.
Admittedly, these two songs were originally released on Warwick’s brilliant 1979 Arista debut, Dionne. Covering any of the songs on that album would be a formidable challenge.
Those minor missteps are more than forgiven after hearing the rest of Feels So Good, including Warwick’s fun pairing with Ziggy Marley on “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, the excellent “Close To You” with Mya, the sublime “Message To Michael” with Cyndi Lauper, and the reverent “You’ll Never Get To Heaven If You Break My Heart” with Ruben Studdard.
I thought I’d be disappointed by Warwick’s cover of “A House Is Not A Home” with Ne-Yo, as no one to date had come close to what Luther Vandross did with the song over 30 years ago. The pair bravely took on Vandross’ arrangement, and Ne-Yo’s in the ballpark, even adding a sharp, high falsetto on ad-libs of which Luther could only have dreamed. Warwick slips right in (as she usually does with duet partners), and they manage to make a 40+ year old composition sound fresh again. The resulting track is on par with Warwick’s best duets over the course of her career.
The legend herself told me that she was particularly happy with the new version of “A House Is Not A Home.”
“I must say Ne-Yo brought his “A” game on that one,” Warwick told me by phone. “I’m so proud of that particular recording as a part of this fabulous new album.”
Another of the album’s highlights is Warwick’s duet with her granddaughter, Cheyenne Elliott, on “Let There Be Love.” Warwick told me that we’re just hearing the first of her granddaughter.
“Cheyenne signed with Narada Michael Walden’s label, Tarpan,” Warwick told me. “They’re just completing their CD now. I’m very proud. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.”
As we talked about Cheyenne, I was reminded of a time years ago when Warwick spoke of one of her relatives entering the music scene. Do you remember the name Whitney Houston? After listening to Warwick’s new duet with her granddaughter, you’ll join me in wanting to hear more from Cheyenne.
Feel So Good also surprises with a gorgeous duet with emerging country singer/songwriter Eric Paslay, the original composition “Every Once In A While”. The lyric “I go back to the people we were / The innocent eyes of a boy and a girl” are particularly poignant coming from a woman who’s spent over half a century interpreting some of the world’s best crafted songs. Pasley masterfully rises to the challenge that singing with Warwick presents. He demoed the song for Warwick in a rather unusual way.
“Eric and my son Damon, who produced this CD, became friends when Damon was doing a few things in Nashville,” Warwick told me. “Eric told him he’d written this song, and asked him whether I might record it. While I was in Nashville for one of the country music award shows, the three of us went to breakfast, and at the restaurant Eric asked me to walk out to the parking lot so he could play the song for me. I thought ‘The PARKING LOT?’, but I followed him outside, he got his guitar out of his car, and he played the song for me right there in the parking lot,” Warwick laughed. “I thought the song was absolutely gorgeous, and he asked if I’d record it with him as a duet.”
As my far too brief conversation with Warwick came to a close, we chatted about the pending holidays, and the legend shared that she still has more music in her. “I’m planning to do a new holiday album,” Warwick said. “Christmas is my favorite time of the year.”
One of my favorite times of the year is any time Dionne Warwick releases a new album.
Look to sacculturalhub.com and The Hub magazine for more of MIchael P. Coleman’s EXCLUSIVE conversation with Dionne Warwick. The two talked about the making of FEELS SO GOOD, as well as other highlights of the singer‘s legendary career.
Look for classic rereleases of many of Warwick’s vintage Arista albums, including her NO NIGHT SO LONG, HOW MANY TIMES CAN WE SAY GOODBYE?, and FINDERS OF LOST LOVES this fall at funkytowngrooves.com.