Smokey Robinson: Food For The Spirit
Genre: Soulful, highly rhythmic R&B-styled gospel-pop
Label: Liquid 8
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- More than just a major hit-maker in the ‘60s and ‘70s, William "Smokey" Robinson has written some of the most enduring pop songs of the last century. His early songs for Motown Records - "Shop Around," "Tracks Of My Tears," "Ooh Baby Baby" and "You Really Got A Hold On Me" - were instrumental in giving Motown a foothold in the then white-dominated pop charts. His silky smooth voice and his deft way with rhyme have lost nothing, as evidenced on his newly released collection of Christian-themed tunes, Food For The Spirit. Robinson makes no attempt to recreate his glory days here, fashioning infectiously rhythmic gospel music that, while hardly cutting edge, moves him slightly beyond the glossy pop sound he perfected with his band, The Miracles. The project’s producers tinker with modern hip-hop-flavored touches on a few songs, but they sound forced at times and do little to enhance the overall impact of the record.
The master pop tunesmith relaxes his unerring commercial instincts on these tracks, most of which average around five minutes each. That isn’t to say he doesn’t render well-crafted melodies. But in contrast to his succinct pop masterpieces of the past, these can become repetitious, lacking the well-placed peaks and pithy hooks of, say, "Tears Of A Clown." That said, the record offers some of the most irrepressible grooves to be heard in contemporary gospel, prompting a worship experience that can even burn calories if one is inclined to let the Spirit move the flesh. "The Road To Damascus," which evokes classic ‘70s soul with its pizzicato strings and itchy, wah-wah guitar, is a standout number that exhorts listeners to "turn around" if they’re on the wrong road or, for that matter, the right road for the wrong reason. "Standing On Jesus" and "He Can Fix Anything," with their monstrously funky bass lines and reverent, Spirit-filled lyrics, erupt in joy that overshadows the CD’s low-budget production. In fact, most of the disc is best suited to meditation-in-motion, with its lengthy and linear cuts. And, for those listeners with an appetite, the CD booklet takes advantage of the opportunity to advertise Robinson’s "Soul-In-A-Bowl" gumbo. This message from the sponsor seems a little below an artist with a career as illustrious as Smokey’s, as do the thin, synthetic drum and horn sounds and the unsophisticated CD graphics. But to be fair, he serves up an edifying and engaging gospel gumbo on Food For The Spirit, considering what he was given to work with in the kitchen.
Steve Morley is a free-lance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.