Lionel Richie flirts with country in Tuskegee

I listened to Lionel Richie’s latest album Tuskegee, over the weekend and although there aren’t any new tracks,  Richie adds a bit of twang to some of his classics. What you get is is 14 duets with some predictable and some unlikely choices. Richie hasn’t gone for the all out country sound, instead just a slight adjusting of arrangements and a banjo or steel guitar thrown in, so his songs are still recognisable, which will be a relief to those ‘countryphobics’ and an introduction to new fans. Not that he had to wander too far, he has the country credentials dating back decades, having had  Conway Twitty,  Kenny Rodgers and Alabama, cover his songs.  

Born and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, he never strayed too far from the music he was surrounded by in his home state and was writing and recording country songs way back when he had a righteous afro and wore platform heels, so there will be no using of phrases like “going back to his roots”. Think of it as just letting the highlights grow out. He was country before country was cool.

After his departure from the Commordores in the early 80’s, Richie pretty much became middle of the road pop  but with soul (not bland and forgettable)with story telling lyrics of country. The result is nothing spectacular, just a room with a new coat of paint and a reminder that it had been a while since I had played any of his music.  It did however introduce me to Pixie Lott. As someone who rarely listens to commercial music radio stations, I wasn’t familiar with her music.

There are some country legends like George Jones and George Strait I would have love to have heard, but that wasn’t to be and I was pleasantly surprised on some unexpected collaboration.  I found myself liking Angel, featuring Pixie Lott.  You couldn’t find anyone more further from country, but she did  the song justice and I ended up checking out her music on Spotify.  Another unexpected choice was Denmark’s number one selling musician,  Rasmuss Seebach (I’d never heard of him)  who appears on the European edition of the album. And yes, there are two editions. The US edition features Jason Aldean on “Say You Say Me”  with a very pedal steel guitar loaded intro. I don’t know what was behind the choice of Seebach, but it was a shrewed move. Ditto his choice for Europes Sail On  which features Swedish pop star and former Eurovision Song contestant Jill Johnson.


Lionel Richie & Rasmus Seebach – ‘Say You, Say Me’ from Universal Music DK on Vimeo.

You can’t fault his harmonising with both Darius Rucker  on Stuck On You (an awesome pairing) and Little Big Town on Deep River Woman (my two favorites).  Along for the ride are contemporaries like Kenny ChesneyBlake Shelton, Billy Currington, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, Shania Twain (who filled in the Diana Ross part of Endless Love).  The pairing of Richie and Rascal Flatts on Dancing On The Ceiling left me a little underwhelmed because I feel Keith Urban SHOULD have got that gig. Listen to it and tell me otherwise. 

Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson make appearances too. Willie on Easy, and I read an anecdote of Richie fondly describes working with his old pal;   “Willie and I have been friends for a very long time… Let me just give you the setting here. He was busted in Texas, they let him out, he gets on the bus and drives to Nashville. He literally gets off the bus for the session. I say to him, ‘Willie, you look amazing.’ His answer was profound. He says ‘Well, I should, I lost eight ounces.’… How many artists in the history of the music business can get Willie Nelson to sing ‘I want to be high’?”

When word got out about the project, I hear everyone wanted to be included and there were several other tracks suggested, Think of the his back catalogue….the possibilities are endless, so I’m thinking there might be a volume II next?   It’s not the first attempt to infuse country music with another genre. 18 years ago Don Was, producer and former front man for Was Not, brought together a selection of Blues, Country and Soul artists. The result was Rhythm, Country and Blues an absolute gem I still go back to frequently, 18 years after first hearing it. And there is a connection here. Legendary music producer Tony Brown produced both albums. Hows about that!

Tuskegee is an effortless collaboration that shows us how music can cross pollinate generation and genres. It also proves that when you bring good people in, roll up your sleeves and go to work. You can put all the labels on it you want, but good music is still the result.

With Shania Twain while shooting 'Endless Love' video in the Bahamas

   Tuskegee Track Listing:

1. “You Are” with Blake Shelton
2. “Say You, Say Me” with Jason Aldean   –   Rasmus Seebach (Europe version) 
3. “Stuck On You” with Darius Rucker
4. “Deep River Woman” with Little Big Town
5. “My Love” with Kenny Chesney
6. “Dancing On The Ceiling” with Rascal Flatts
7. “Hello” with Jennifer Nettles
8. “Sail On” with Tim McGraw  –  Jill Johnson (Europe version)
9. “Endless Love” with Shania Twain
10. “Just For You” with Billy Currington
11. “Lady” with Kenny Rogers
12. “Easy” with Willie Nelson
13. “All Night Long” with Jimmy Buffett
14. “Angel” with Pixie Lott

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