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Album review: Lionel Richie's 'Tuskegee'

March 26, 2012 |  7:16 pm

Lionel Richie revisits some of his hit duets with help from Shania Twain, Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney and more.

Lionel-richie

Nashville loves, loves, LOVES it when pop stars come a-courtin', which makes Lionel Richie's entry into its field a sure bet for a warm welcome in Music City -- especially as he revisits his monster hit duets from the '80s with country stars including Shania Twain, Willie Nelson, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton and others.

The title references Richie's Alabama birthplace as a signal of his Southern cred. But country now draws so extensively from the pop and R&B sounds of the 1970s and '80s, when Richie was one of the kingpins of mainstream music, that his new album is less the 180-degree career shift that it may seem. Acoustic guitars replace glistening synths, bittersweet steel guitars slide in to provide the patina of rural rootsiness, yet Richie still never really steps away from the polished sheen that characterized his musical heyday.

The highlight is the song "Easy," with Nelson's signature elastic vocals elevating the tune, but Rascal Flatts' singing behind him about "Dancing on the Ceiling" or Twain's handling Diana Ross' lines in "Endless Love" doesn't materially add to -- or subtract from -- the original versions. Richie's recordings were always among the fluffier hits of the time, anyway, never seriously challenging Prince or Michael Jackson among R&B-rooted pop innovators, and now he's not giving Hank, Merle or Johnny anything to fret about either.

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-- Randy Lewis

"Tuskegee"
Lionel Richie
Mercury Nashville
Two stars (out of four)

Photo: Lionel Richie. Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press.

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