One of the greatest songsters of last century strips his hits to bring out ultimate tenderness – and bring on some prominent guests.
Tunes written by Lamont Dozier – on his own and with the Holland brothers – are indelible, defining even, part of pop music’s landscape that influenced millions of artists and became soundtrack to many a life. From Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get A Witness” to Phil Collins’ “Two Hearts” and beyond, Lamont’s songs have always been aurally effervescent, yet their true emotionality lay somewhat deeper, and it’s this pulsing vein that the veteran decided to mine 50-odd-decades after Tamla and Motown performers made the trio’s compositions modern classics. Toned down to outline their inherent intimacy, the dozen cuts Dozier selected for a new display doesn’t seem to be devised as ballads but, accompanied mostly by a piano or acoustic guitar here, the composer’s voice turns familiar pieces into embers destined to warm up even the coldest night.
There’s a pleasant element of surprise, when fresh arrangements bare previously concealed melodic layers in old chestnuts, “Bernadette” unfolding as fragile flamenco and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” revealing its vulnerability. More so, there’s another context for some of the gems which are stitched together as unexpected medleys, and if “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” appears briefly as a coda to one of the tracks, “Where Did Our Love Go” seguing into “Stop! In The Name Of Love” and “Come See About Me” before landing on “Baby Love” – where Graham Nash’s vocals help fashion heavenly harmonies, just as Jo Harman’s pipes do on the electrically tinctured pairing of “Heat Wave” with “Nowhere To Run” – create miniature symphonies. With Marc Cohn and Gregory Porter among Lamont’s foils, variety is guaranteed and maudliness is banished from these sentimental tunes, and the contrast conjured on “Baby I Need Your Loving” thanks to Lee Ann Womack’s country inflections set against Dozier’s soulful croon is enticing to say the least.
“You Keep Me Hanging On” may be immensely moving, with Rumer’s silk woven in alongside organ – an integral fiber of this piece since VANILLA FUDGE made it a staple of their repertoire – yet, as demonstrated on the ever playful “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, Dozier’s delivery is enough to keep the listener riveted. Solemn on the strings-drenched “This Old Heart Of Mine” and “My World Is Empty Without You” that see Cliff Richard pay tribute to Hitsville U.S.A., and mellifluous on “In My Lonely Room” with Todd Rundgren reprising his erstwhile live experience of knocking on Gordy’s Factory doors, “Reimagination” highlights every aspect of Lamont’s songs. It’s a testament to his tremendous talent, a self-homage done humbly and with grace. Essential in all the ways imaginable.