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Lionel Richie

Tuskegee – 2012 (Mercury)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Lionel Richie

Country music's definition has devolved to mean almost anything with slightly verifiable Southern roots, which means that Alabama-born Lionel Richie's music is about as country as anything else under the huge country umbrella. Some might call Richie's original songs soul/R&B. However, the singer/songwriter hasn't sounded truly funky since Brick House with The Commodores, and that song dates way back to 1977. "Tuskegee" is Richie's attempt to revive his recording career by going country with an album of Richie/country star duets. Ironically, Richie trades lines with Kenny Rogers on "Lady," a performer that also discovered newfound chart success after leaving the semi-psychedelic rock sounds of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, and returned to his Southern roots.

The results on "Tuskegee" are mixed. While the steel guitar that embellishes Jason Aldean and Richie's vocals gives Say You Say Me real country punch, even the electric guitar-bolstered Riche/Jennifer Nettles paring on Hello, can't erase all that song's schmaltz. And did they really think they'd fool us into believing the Rascal Flatts assist, Dancing on the Ceiling, was country, simply by the insertion of a banjo part at the start? "Tuskegee" isn't so much reinvention as it is a series of slight alterations. It neither offends, nor surprises.