Born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway, we know this rapper, record producer and singer-songwriter better by his stage name, CeeLo Green. In his sixth solo studio album, we hear a man stripped from his Perfect Imperfections (2002), an unmasked face behind The Soul Machine (2004). We listen to Thomas Callaway, without any bells and whistles, in an album produced entirely by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys, The Arcs) at his studio in Nashville.
Some of the best things in life are unplanned and happen when it needs to happen… call it destiny or call it fate. It appears that a country-soul album with some of Nashville’s best songwriters and session musicians was far from CeeLo’s ‘plan’ but… with a little bit of Auerbach magic and gentle persuasion, it was time for the 'Lady Killer' masks to be removed and the 'Fuck You' walls to come tumbling down.
Now, the first question must be... can Auerbach repeat the same success he had with Americana country-soul artist Yola's debut album Walk Through Fire in 2019? Directing a seasoned soul singer like Green in his studio with some of the best talents in the business... Surely, the recipe will yield another winner?
Green embraces his vulnerabilities on the opening track, "For You". Promise me there'll be no games/I don't want anything/I have cried enough. The move away from his highly polished and extroverted earlier recording style continues on in first LP single, "Lead Me." Lead me, by example/Lead me, 'cause I've been going' nowhere/Lead me, to the promised land/I’ll follow you through fire/You're more than a friend.
It sounds like a different CeeLo Green and it appears that the ‘real’ Thomas Callaway is emerging with help from Auerbach.
However, 4 songs into the album and one starts to notice the same crooning style song after song, monotony starts to creep in. Now the questions start again… Was this album rushed? or perhaps pursued on a whim? A gang of musicians jamming together to see what pops up? How else can a song like “People Watching” be conceived?
Green does not alter his dynamic vocal range much throughout the album… He sings “You Gotta Do It All” and “Slow Down” so effortlessly that one wonders if he is pushing any boundaries and just playing safe. Remember there was no real ‘plan’ - just come together and see what happens.
Thankfully, we hear brass horns herald a welcoming change in style on “Doing It All Together”. Finally, we hear Green pushing some limits and baring his soul in “Down With the Sun” and “The Way”. Both tracks were incidentally co-written with David R. Ferguson (best known for his engineering work with Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash).
The difference between Green's album with Yola's Walk Through Fire becomes apparent. Apart from the stronger leaning towards country music, Yola does not hold back... one hears and feels her pain and struggles in her songs that were inspired by loss and abuse. On the other hand, Green does try to engage by revealing his yearnings and aspirations in the album tracks but it just does not hold.
Untethered and unhindered, CeeLo Green tries on a new image in his 2020 solo album… But, I’m not fully convinced I see and hear the real Thomas Callaway… yet.
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Released: 26 Jun 2020