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"a time 2 love": stevie wonder
by Michael Heyliger
Stevie Wonder is easily one of the five most
important figures in contemporary music,
regardless of genre. As a vocalist, he's
influenced just about EVERY soul singer
that's followed him. As an instrumentalist,
he pioneered the concept of the one-man
band, often playing keyboards, bass and
drums on his own records. He's also almost
solely responsible for the synthesizer
revolution of the Seventies and Eighties.
As a songwriter? Forget about it. With the possible exception of
Lennon/McCartney, Stevie is the most important songwriter of the
latter part of the 20th century, able to create standards that ran the
gamut from the most exquisite of love songs ("You Are The Sunshine
Of My Life", "You & I", "Rocket Love") to the most hardcore protest
songs ("Superstition", "Living For The City"). As a philanthropist and
an instrument for social change, he is nearly peerless among
entertainment figures. He was an integral part of the civil rights
movement, not to mention that he was one of the public figures most
responsible for making Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national
holiday. What do Bono, Alicia Keys, Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman,
Lenny Kravitz, R. Kelly, Norah Jones and Adam Levine all have in
common? All of them strongly wear the scent of Stevie's influence.

Thing is, "A Time For Love", Stevie's first album since 1995's
"Conversation Peace", is well worth the wait. At age 55, you would
think that the man has lost...something. I mean, how many folks
whose stardom predates The Beatles are capable of making relevant
music into the 21st century?

First off, we should thank the headstrong Wonder (the man IS a
Taurus) for not succumbing to any modern trends. Barring a
synthesizer or two and modern production, this album could've been
made in 1995, 1985, or 1975. And although he's 10 years away from
senior citizen-dom, Stevie's joy for making music, his boundless
energy, and his desire to initiate social change through love has not
dimmed one bit.

Although the man has been known in his later years as a balladeer,
he's still got the funk in him. "So What The Fuss" has a deep, rubbery
bass stomp. Stevie spits rapid-fire lyrics over the song's syncopated
groove, topped off with bluesy guitar licks from Prince and vocal
sweetening from En Vogue. It's a sassy, finger-wagging good time of
a single that proves Steveland has not lost his sly charm. Then you
can check out the equally funky but more playful "Please Don't Hurt
My Baby". The man isn't preaching, just casting a wink and a grin at a
variety of cheatin' folks swearing their lovers to secrecy.

Stevie's all about "Positivity", as one song states, and although any
regular artist would take a song like this and turn it into a
cheese-fest, Stevie turns it into a life-affirmin', hand-clappin' good
time. It's the difference between someone just singing a song and
someone actually MEANING what they sing.

"Time To Love" definitely has a more pronounced jazz influence than
Stevie's previous efforts. "My Love Is On Fire" is a midtempo strut,
with a summery, bright arrangement. It's uplifting and mellow at the
same time. Hubert Laws' flute solo at the end of the record feels like
a cool breeze wafting in after the simmer of the rest of the song. The
moody "Moon Blue" and the romantic "True Love" also help set a
particular mood. "True Love", in particular, is sure to be covered by
Norah Jones or Diana Krall or one of those standards singers at some
point in the future. When I hear this song, I picture a scene in black
and white, with two elegantly dressed people enveloped in a tight
clench, dancing slowly but assuredly to the beat of the music, but lost
in their own romantic world. And that's to say nothing of Stevie's
vocal performance. His voice can raise the dead to stand up and
scream "Hallelujah!"

Want proof that singing talent just might be genetic. Witness the
recorded debut of Stevie's daughter Aisha Morris (the squealing baby
on "Isn't She Lovely" all those years ago) on the jazzy ballad "How
Will I Know". The back and forth between Stevie and Aisha is
effortless. His daughter has a rich, somewhat deep vocal tone not
unlike Lalah Hathaway or india.arie. Incidentally, arie pops up on the
album's epic title track, where Stevie gets on his soapbox and asks
the leaders of the world to unite in the name of love and make the
world a better place. As stated earlier, 95% of all other singers would
take a message like this and Disney-fy it to the point of sheer
corniness. I don't know whether Stevie has some secret formula that
makes his simply worded thoughts stick to the ribs or whether the
beauty of his singing voice just makes me forget about the corn.
Either way, it works.

There's a lot more I could go into here. The pristine pop balladry of
the wedding-themed "From The Bottom Of My Heart", the
silly/giddy/tender "Sweetest Somebody I Know", the Dr. Dre meets
blues harmonica & slide guitar stomp of "Tell Your Heart I Love You",
but you get the picture. Upon sliding this album into the CD player, I
wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Although Stevie remains an
electrifying performer, both on stage and on record ten years is ten
years.

...and I was wrong for ever doubting Stevie Wonder. No, it's not
"Talking Book", "Innervisions", or "Songs In The Key Of Life". I don't
know if albums like that will ever be recorded again. But it's easily as
consistent as anything Stevie's recorded in a quarter-century, and in
today's somewhat stale music scene, "A Time To Love" is as good as
a drink of ice water after two days in the desert.

Visit Stevie's site for more info:  
www.steviewonder.net