Sunday, March 27, 2005

I Should Hate This, But I Just Don't




You know, I was looking at an album to laugh at. The older I get, I find that I need those belly laughs that come from music. The really bad and or ill-advised stuff. While the talented Billy Eckstine's 60's Motown sessions provided a chuckle or two, I ended being a convert. Who can resist stuff like "For The Love of Ivy" I mean really.

So imagine my shock when I came across Hugo Montenegro. You've heard of him, right? By the time he hit my consciousness he just morphed into some amalagation of Peter Nero, Mantovani--who ever I didn't want to listen to. Speaking of Mantovani, didn't he always seem old? Like a hundred, he was on the same label as Al Green for a time. But anyway, back to Hugo-in Wonderland. This 1975 album centers on the work of Stevie Wonder. While the whole premise would send many Montenegro and Wonder fans heading for the hills, Hugo-in Wonderland is one of those things that just works. Why ask why.

Certainly by the '70s many artists like Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal and Quincy Jones were covering the prime Wonder material, especially the stuff from Talking Book. Add Art Garfunkel to the list, Jeff Beck and of course Montenegro. Of course.

To be honest, Montenegro wasn't one of the most deft keyboardist around, but the very heavy-handeness blasts this past camp and puts it squarely into the "not half bad" realm. While most of this is in the 3 star range, some songs stand out. It's hilarious to hear Wonder's "Shoo-Be-Doo Be Doo Da Day" given a funky/blissed out mid '70s vibe. Sad for me, "You've Got It Bad Girl" is no laughing matter. It's flat-out gorgeous, attaining the edginess of Wonder's 1972 original and exacting everything that is great in the original melody line. To add insult to my injury, Wonder himself ok'd the effort and gave Montenegro some kind words.


Breakdown: It's not great, not horrible--but it's certainly worth hearing.

Who Will Like It: Fanatics of that well and strong produced '70s pop/jazzy sound

Who Won't: Those who think this stuff is pure b.s.
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