Quick, what guy compiled 40 number one country singles, recorded with everybody from Ray Charles to Elvis, but has yet to be enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame? Yes, it's Ronnie Milsap, now in his 70s, just like Merle Haggard (who was inducted 20 years ago). Clearly, the ornery outlaws get more attention than the nice guy romantics. And it doesn't help that Milsap has always been interested in many different flavors of music, from '70s Philadelphia Soul to '50s doo-wop.
On his latest, the blind keyboard virtuoso mines all those favorite sounds of his youth. Yes, it's mostly a covers affair, but two fresh songs crop. The new title song, in particular, shows a lot of style. It would fit right in as the last dance of the night for a gym full of bobbysoxers.
Milsap is still in strong voice, and when he really cuts loose, like on Lloyd Price's "Personality" from 1959 or Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife," it's surprising how excitably loud he can (still) get. There's a return of Milsap's own homage "Lost in the Fifties Tonight," which fits right alongside its spiritual kin, even though it was recorded 30 years prior. One other wise choice was enlisting Mandy Barnett, a Patsy Cline soundalike specialist, who helps make the most of The Stylistics' soul classic "You Make Me Feel Brand New."
As with many oldie salutes, the more the production strays from the original arrangement, the more trouble they beg. Hank Williams' "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)" doesn't need blues progressions or instrumental tricks to wring extra feeling out of it. And overly-familiar tunes like "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" never seem to have left soft-rock radio to merit another cover. Surely some other lost nugget might have made for a more interesting choice.
But ultimately, if you can remember these songs, then you fit the target demographic. Thanks to Milsap's endurable vocal gifts, long memory, and "pure love" for these songs, it's something all ages can enjoy. Now, about that Hall of Fame plaque...