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Smokey Robinson


Reviewed on this page:
Hi We're The Miracles - Doin' Mickey's Monkey - Going To A Go Go - Away We A-Go-Go - Make It Happen - Special Occasion - Four In Blue - Live! - Time Out - A Pocket Full Of Miracles - The Season For Miracles - Flying High Together - A Quiet Storm - Smokey's Famiy Robinson - Deep In My Soul - Love Breeze - Where There's Smoke - Warm Thoughts - Being With You - Yes It's You Lady - Touch The Sky - Essar - Smoke Signals - One Heartbeat - Double Good Everything - Intimate - Food For The Spirit - Timeless Love - Time Flies When You're Having Fun - Smokey & Friends


William "Smokey" Robinson's high tenor is his calling card, but he's also one of the most important songwriters and producers of the 1960s. The only Motown artist to write and produce his own recordings from the beginning, he also wrote and produced many of the most memorable songs for Motown's other acts: "Ain't That Peculiar" for Marvin Gaye; "My Guy" for Mary Wells; "My Girl" and "Get Ready" for the Temptations. He kept plenty of top material for himself, from early hits like "Shop Around" and "Ooh Baby Baby" to the Sound Of Young America classics "The Tracks Of My Tears" (which inspired the Zombies' "Time Of The Season") and "The Tears Of A Clown" (co-written with Stevie Wonder). Smokey has an ear for catchy melodies and was a perfectionist producer and arranger, but his most important contribution was his lyrics: probably the most cleverly written love songs of the period, often working an extended metaphor to death: listen to "The Way You Do The Things You Do" by the Temptations or the Supremes' "The Composer" or Smokey's own "More Love" or "I Second That Emotion" and you'll see what I mean. Bob Dylan once called him America's greatest living poet, and I suspect he wasn't kidding. (Dylan later said it was a slip of the tongue and he'd meant to say Artur Rimbaud, who was neither alive nor American, but whatever.)

Many of the ratings on this page are low, which relects two things: Robinson gave many of his best tunes to other artists, and Motown tended to package one hit single with eleven flops and call that an album. I have a long way to go before I'll have a complete discography, but it's coming along... you should have seen this page a year or two ago. Also, I've managed to review Robinson's autobiography on our book reviews page. (DBW)

Personnel:
William "Smokey" Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Warren "Pete" Moore, Claudette Rogers Robinson (left 1964), all vocalists. Smokey went solo in 1972, replaced by William Griffin.


Hi We're The Miracles (1961)
The first Miracles album, this has the early hit "Shop Around" and that's about it: Smokey wrote or cowrote everything (except a cover of "Money"), but he doesn't really have his craft worked out yet. The lyrics are disappointingly routine ("Who's Lovin' You," "Your Love"), the backing tracks are ordinary and difficult to hear, and he only occasionally comes up with a memorable melody ("Shop Around"). At this point the group was switching off lead vocals, making this record something of a curiosity (Claudette Rogers belts out "After All"). (DBW)

Cookin' With The Miracles (1962)

I'll Try Something New (1962)
The title track was a single, and was revived years later for a collaboration between the Supremes and the Temptations. (DBW)

Recorded Live On Stage (1963)

You've Really Got A Hold On Me (1963)
The title track was a hit, later covered by the Beatles. (DBW)

Doin' Mickey's Monkey (1963)
The Miracles hit with "Mickey's Monkey," a bare-bones dance track by Holland-Dozier-Holland, and quickly rushed out a whole album in the same vein: lyrics are continually recycled, as nearly every song mentions the Watusi and the Mashed Potato, and musically everything comes down to Benny Benjamin's drumming, which is fun ("Dancin' Holiday") and varied (Smokey's "The Groovey Thing") but can't carry the record. The majority of the tunes are covers ("The Twist," "Twist And Shout," "Land of 1000 Dances") and the originals are nearly weightless (HDH's "I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying"), with no love songs, memorable melodies or any breath of innovation. Only for 50's gimmick-rock addicts. (DBW)

Christmas With The Miracles (1963)

Gemini (1964)

Going To A Go-Go (1965)
Leads off with three of Smokey's best songs: there's the sad "The Tracks Of My Tears," similar in theme to the later "Tears Of A Clown." There's the title hit, a wonderful rocker driven by Earl Van Dyke's stomping piano and another brilliant bass line from James Jamerson, later covered by the Rolling Stones. And there's"Ooh Baby Baby," a 50's style ballad with a gripping vocal hook from Smokey. "My Girl Has Gone" was also a hit, though it seems rather generic to me. The rest of the album is filler; my CD doesn't give writers credits but I assume it's all or mostly all by Smokey. The productions aren't anywhere near as sophisticated as later Motown, and the rest of the Miracles don't add much. But there are still a bunch of fun tunes with catchy melodies, like "All That's Good." (DBW)

Away We A Go-Go (1966)
This is a collection of odds and ends without any big hits, but it's still not a bad deal for fans. Smokey was writing a lot of good songs at this point, but mostly wasn't recording them himself. Instead, here he covers two Motown hits he didn't write: Norman Whitfield's cheesy "Beauty's Only Skin Deep" and HDH's opulent "(Come Round Here) I'm The One You Need," and several pop tunes, including two Bacharach/David numbers ("Walk On By," "I Don't Know What To Do With Myself"). The originals are servicable but nothing brilliant: Smokey's "More, More More Of Your Love" is built on a simple but effective piano riff, and his "Oh Be My Love" is a characteristically sweet melody; Stevie Wonder's "Can You Love A Poor Boy" is engaging but slight. The performances themselves are good, with Smokey's lovely voice complementing the elegant arrangements. (DBW)

Make It Happen (1967)
Motown was really on a roll in the fall of 1967. This record is packed with hits, and even the lesser cuts are still worth hearing. It has "Tears Of A Clown," which for some reason wasn't released as a single until 1970 - the album was renamed for that single and re-released. It's a good example of the Miracles' later sound, carefully recorded with a solid Jamerson bass line and judicious use of strings and other orchestral instruments, but still keeping Smokey's crooning tenor front and center. The other hits are the poppy "The Soulful Shack," and the gorgeous "More Love," a love song for his wife (former Miracle Claudette Rogers Robinson) that Robinson later described as being the only song he wrote that was based on his real life. Other standouts include "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage," with great rhymes, and the rockin' "Dancing's Alright." On these songs he's not just putting together pretty melodies with elegant production, he's also doing something different with each track. The one cover is "I'm On The Outside (Looking In)," originally a hit for Little Anthony & The Imperials. Smokey also had a huge hit in late '67 with "I Second That Emotion," but I think it was only available on a greatest hits album. (DBW)

Special Occasion (1968)
A slightly more laid-back, less orchestrated approach than the last record, it's still a classy, winning, endlessly hummable collection of tracks. "If You Can Want" is a classic Smokey love song that just missed the Top Ten - it seems to be forgotten by history, for some reason; the title track was a minor hit too. Another single, "Yester Love," is uncharacteristically disorganized with dynamics changes apparently at random, which gives it a strange charm - Jamerson's in peak form, too, which never hurts. There are a few covers and remakes thrown in, including stabs at "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Yesterday" - one of the few times the Miracles sang close harmony - but mostly it's originals, and with so many solid tunes like the ballad "Give Her Up," this is a safe buy. (DBW)

Four In Blue (1969)
A total commercial flop, but curiously, it's a better record than the followup, which spawned four Top Forty singles. There's a lot of the meticulous orchestration of Make It Happen, on complex clever tunes like "You Send Me (With Your Good Lovin')" and "Dreams, Dreams"; Smokey transforms the Beatles' "Hey Jude" into a tortured ballad, and also sings the hell out of "Tomorrow Is Another Day." There are a number of problems, though: Ashford & Simpson's "California Soul" sounds as silly here as it did when Marvin Gaye recorded it; Smokey doesn't do anything interesting with the overrecorded "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"; and the cover of "My World Is Empty Without You" is obvious filler. (DBW)

Live! (1969)
Whereas most Motown live albums are made up of zippy singles bogged down with turgid renditions of other people's hits, this time the pattern is reversed. Miracles tunes like "Going To A Go Go" and "Mickey's Monkey" are stretched out so long they become dull, and the real fun is in the covers: Smokey's falsetto is flawless on stirring versions of "Walk On By" and Jimmy Webb's "Up, Up And Away." There are crisp renditions of "If You Can Want" and (marginally) "I Second That Emotion" but more often than not, even the most magical tunes ("Ooh Baby Baby"; "The Tracks Of My Tears") get lost amid overlong vamping. (DBW)

Time Out (1969)
On the album cover, the Miracles are wearing their then-hip cravats, leather suits and goatees (hey, I think those are hip again...). But Smokey doesn't go overboard with late 60s production gimmicks like Temptations' producer Norman Whitfield did. The hit "Baby, Baby Don't Cry" is excellent: a 50s ballad along the lines of "Ooh Baby Baby," with a very modern, harmonically interesting middle. "The Hurt Is Over" is another typically clever Smokey composition, with not a syllable or a note wasted. But those are the only really good songs on the record, which is filled out with Motown potboilers like "For Once In My Life," Smokey's own "My Girl," and the toothless social comment "Abraham Martin And John." Also contains a terrible version of Smokey's "The Composer" which doesn't have the excitement or even the same melody as the Supremes' version. This is definitely not the place to start getting to know Smokey. (DBW)

What Love Has Joined Together (1970)

A Pocket Full Of Miracles (1970)
Another commercially unsuccessful release, but it's fun. As on the previous two albums, there are several covers ("Something" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are both well-served here); the originals include the bouncy single "Point It Out" and the surprisingly funky "Flower Girl." The production isn't as expansive as "Make It Happen" but it's more sophisticated, and avoids the psychedelic clichés that plagued most of Motown's 1970 output. Ashford & Simpson came up with a winning ballad, "Who's Gonna Take The Blame" (which I'm sure they also produced) while George and Rosemary Gordy contributed the fine "Darling Dear." But the record's most amusing moment is a remake of "Get Ready" (earlier a hit for the Temptations) which lifts the main riff from Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love" (!) and tops it off with furious, brilliant James Jamerson bass runs. Later this year, "Tears Of A Clown" was finally released as a single and went all the way to #1, the only time Smokey ever topped the charts. (DBW)

The Season For Miracles (1970)
Yes, another Christmas album, and it's as predictable and pat as you might fear ("Jingle Bells"). Robinson's falsetto is clear as ever, but that just exacerbates the overly smooth, Muzaky feel ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"; "Go Tell It On The Mountain"). Perhaps the only reason you'd want to hear this is for two Stevie Wonder donations: "It's Christmas Time" is soggy slush; "I Can Tell When Christmas Is Near" doesn't quite come together but does display his signature melodicism. The closing "A Child Is Waiting," though, is the winner: a touching celebration of adoption. (DBW)

In 1972 Smokey wrote and produced an artistically, if not commercially successful album for the Diana Ross-less Supremes: Floy Joy. (JA)

Flying High Together (1972)
Smokey quit the Miracles after this release, and it's easy to see why: the well was dry (he didn't write a single song here) and there's nothing distinctive about this collection of tunes. Six different producers are on hand: Ashford & Simpson with their enjoyable "You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin'"; Stevie Wonder with the stunningly dull "It Will Be Alright" and the decent but trivial "We Had A Love So Strong" (with the burbling synths that would soon become his trademark); Bobby Miller with the flat title track he also wrote; Johnny Brisol on several tracks, and Smokey himself on a couple ("Theme From Love Story"). No hits and only a couple of memorable songs; fortunately, Robinson saves the best for last: a beautifully arranged rendition of Thom Bell & Linda Creed's "Betcha By Golly Wow" (produced by Bristol). (DBW)

Smokey (Robinson: 1973)
His first solo record, and far from the last to make use of his name in the title. (JA)

Pure Smokey (Robinson: 1974)
This probably features two moderately successful A-sides from early 1974: "Baby Come Close" and "Just My Soul Responding." (JA)

A Quiet Storm (Robinson: 1975)
- Smokey might have been a Motown vice president by now, but he hadn't lost a step when it came to songwriting, singing, and production. The title track here is a superb, a mellow R & B workout that gets under your skin immediately. And then it gets better, with two singles that both cracked the Top 40: "The Agony And The Ecstasy," a wrenching, slow-paced confessional of adultery, and the danceable, joyous "Baby That's Backatcha." The rest is also strong, even verging into Stevie Wonder territory with funky synth and flute on "Love Letters," and female backup vocals, lively electric piano, and snappy horns on "Coincidentally." Some of it is so lush and down-tempo that it threatens to be boring - "Happy (Love Theme From 'Lady Sings The Blues')" takes so long to build that you might pass out before the ecstatic finale. Still, though, Smokey's command of melody and arrangement is so solid that you'll be smiling by the end. Miracles guitarist Marvin Tarplin is among the band members; arranger Russ Turner handles the keyboards and joins several backup vocalists. (JA)
- Smokey's songwriting is consistently excellent here, putting across ballads and uptempo dance almost effortlessly, and dispensing with the Miracles seems to have created more room for his vocals. There's not a bad song here (though the female backups on "Backatcha" are a bit much), and though it doesn't have the good-time energy of his best 60s work, it may be the best of his mature work. (DBW)

Smokey's Family Robinson (Robinson: 1976)
Robinson vanished from the charts with this release, and though it's somewhat dated it's still a good listen. The album leads off with the shapeless disco tune "When You Came," but then things pick up quickly, with the classic Smokey soul of "Get Out Of Town," the funky quasipolitical "Do Like I Do," the clavinet-based "Open" (which sounds just like Billy Preston's early 70s work), and three elegant ballads, "So In Love," "Like Nobody Can," and "Castles Are Made Of Sand." Smokey produced and wrote or co-wrote everything here, so his mark is evident even though he doesn't indulge in any vocal acrobatics. Tarplin is still on hand, plus keyboardist Sonny Burke, who would become a staple of Robinson's solo work. The drummer is Joseph Brown, Wayne Tweed's on bass, and Fred Smith arranged and played all the horns. (DBW)

City Of Angels (1976)
This album contains the one major hit for the post-Robinson Miracles, "Love Machine," and the time capsule curio "Ain't Nobody Straight In L.A." Produced by Freddie Perren of "I Will Survive" fame; I have this and will get around to listening to it one of these days. (DBW)

Deep In My Soul (Robinson: 1977)
One flop album and somebody panicked, bringing in a flock of outsider producers (Hal Davis, Michael Sutton, Larry Brown) and not using any Smokey compositions. This record didn't sell either, but artistically it's no disaster: the single "Vitamin U" (by Terry McFadden and Larry Brown) is as clever and likeable as most of Smokey's own work (though the production is a bit slick); Smokey turns in a fine vocal performance on Elliot Willensky's "It's Been A Long Time (Since I Been In Love)"; Jeffery Bowen and Donald Baldwin come up with two more gentle, memorable ballads ("If You Want My Love," "You Cannot Laugh Alone"). That said, the disc lacks personality, and the arrangements are so MOR that there's nothing to hold your interest on the several weak numbers ("In My Corner," "Let's Do The Dance Of Life Together"). Just another mid-70s record, but it's worth a spin. (DBW)

Big Time Soundtrack (1977)

Love Breeze (Robinson: 1978)
Robinson retook the reins as producer, and wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes, but he didn't have any fresh ideas at all. The single "Why You Wanna See My Bad Side" is rushed, repetitive disco; "Madam X" and "Shoe Soul" are about the worst lyrics Robinson's ever written. Every arrangement is routine, with horns and strings used predictably atop a laid-back rhythm section. The one worthwhile track is the bouncy, tuneful retro-50s "Love So Fine." It's strange that someone with such a great commercial sense could put out so many bad albums... feel free to ponder the philosophical issues involved, but don't shell out much money for this one. (DBW)

Smokin' (Robinson: 1979)

Where There's Smoke... (Robinson: 1979)
He had a commercial comeback here, sparked by the hit "Cruisin'." The "Smoke" side consists of ballads, including "I Love The Nearness Of You" co-written with Wonder, and the "Fire" side has a silly disco remake of "Get Ready" besides "Cruisin'." But both sides are disappointing, with standard soul/pop production, and no memorable melodies or sophisticated wordplay. (DBW)

Warm Thoughts (Robinson: 1980)
This came out just a couple of months after Smoke, and is a bit more interesting. Robinson comes up with some more clever love song lyrics ("Heavy On Pride (Light On Love)"), although he gets a bit too precious at times ("Into Each Rain Some Life Must Fall"). The outstanding track is "Wine, Women & Song," where his wife Claudette sings about the limitations of being a pop star's wife while Smokey sings about the infatuation of a fan with a female pop star, in a sort of thematic counterpoint. There's also another collaboration with Wonder, "Melody Man," with an intrusive slap bass line. (DBW)

Being With You (Robinson: 1981)
Robinson brought in outside producer George Tobin to get him a mainstream sound, and the union bore instant fruit: the gorgeous title track shot to #2 and became Smokey's biggest solo hit ever. Smokey wrote that one, and also the album's other standout tracks, "If You Wanna Make Love (Come 'Round Here)" and the calypso social comment (I kid you not) "Food For Thought." Tobin's arrangements are comfortable without sounding hackneyed, even on lackluster tunes like "Who's Sad"; the only embarrassment is "Can't Fight Love," a shameful ripoff of the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body." Mike Piccirillo co-wrote several tunes and played guitar, keyboards and even steel drums; Bill Cuomo added keys; Scott Edwards played bass; and Ed Greene was on drums. Robinson's usual band only appears on the routine love song "As You Do," which he produced but didn't write. (DBW)
Actually, the title track was his biggest solo hit ever, staying at #2 for three weeks. I have this disc, I'll review it soon. (JA)

Yes It's You Lady (Robinson: 1982)
Tobin produced again, and the strategy still had some success: the uptempo pop song "Tell Me Tomorrow" (by Gary Goetzman and Piccirillo) cracked the Top Forty; "Old Fashioned Love" and Smokey's title track are also quite enjoyable in an Adult Contemporary way. But the record loses steam on the second side, with a forced-sounding dance number ("The Only Game In Town"), a wince-inducing Smokey love song ("International Baby"), a listenable but pointless remake of the 1961 single "I'll Try Something New," and the labored "Destiny." A mixed bag, and the last album Robinson charted for several years. Mostly the same band - Greene, Edwards, Cuomo, Piccirillo - though Tarplin returned on a few tracks. (DBW)
"Tell Me Tomorrow" didn't nearly match "Being With You" in chart performance, but it did hit the Top 40. After this Robinson has had little luck with singles. (JA)

Touch The Sky (Robinson: 1982)
Robinson took back the producer's reins, in tandem with longtime collaborator Sonny Burke, and they go for an 80s soul/dance sound typified by Paul Jackson Jr.'s chorused rhythm guitar scratches. The arrangements are dated and kind of predictable, particularly on the uptempo numbers (title track, which I think was a single), but the approach creates a lush, smooth soundscape on the gorgeous midtempo "Gimme What You Want." Six of the eight songs are written or co-written by Smokey, and they're solid, including the closing ballad "I've Made Love To You A Thousand Times" and the danceable "Dynamite." Burke played all the keyboards and drums; other musicians include Nathan East and James Jamerson Jr. on bass, David T. Walker and Charles Fearing on guitar, Ernie Watts on sax, and of course Paulinho Da Costa. Low-key and enjoyable: not a good introduction to Smokey's talents but a credible demonstration of them. (DBW)

Essar (Robinson: 1984)
Another Robinson/Burke production, but without the same light touch. Fearing plays a bunch of obtrusive, politely distorted guitar solos ("And I Don't Love You"), the synth programming is less subtle ("Girl I'm Standing There"), and Smokey's melodies and lyrics seem labored ("Close Encounters Of The First Kind"). "Train Of Thought" is fun, a single metaphor extended through an entire easy-going song, and the cradle-robber's anthem "Little Girl Little Girl" tackles a disturbing subject with witty rhymes. The dregs are the three songs Robinson and Burke didn't write or produced: Mark Davis's "Gone Forever" (from the movie Cry Of The City), Stephen Tavani and Scott Smith's "Why Are You Running From My Love," and Steve Dorff's "Driving Thru Life In The Fast Lane" - all faceless corporate soul. Many of the musicians from Touch The Sky are back, plus Rhett Lawrence and "Ready" Freddie Washington. As big a step down from the previous record as it is a big step above the following one - ideally, I'd like to give it two and a quarter stars. (DBW)

In 1985, Robinson contributed vocals to "We Are The World." (DBW)

Smoke Signals (Robinson: 1986)
Robinson recruited producers Steve Barri and Tony Peluso, and they bring in a number of familiar 80s studio musicians, including Robbie Buchanan, Paul Jackson, Mike Boddicker, Vinnie Colaiuta, the Tower of Power horns, and yes, Paulinho Da Costa. Herb Alpert also guests on "Te Quiero Como Si No Hubiera Mañana." Robinson contributes about half the material, including "Hold On To Your Love" written with Stevie Wonder (the rest are by various outside writers), and everything sounds completely unoriginal. Even when Robinson's motivated (on the attempted anthem "Be Kind To The Growing Mind") he doesn't have anything new to say. Smokey's low point: by his own account, he was doing so much coke around this time that he could barely leave his house, let alone make enjoyable music. (DBW)

One Heartbeat (Robinson: 1987)
This time Peter Bunetta and Rick Chudacoff produce, and they bring a generic but not unpleasant Adult Contemporary vibe. Robinson also got some outside help on songwriting, resulting in one more huge hit ("Just To See Her"), and the pretty though unsubstantial title track. Robinson wrote or co-wrote all the remaining tracks, but they're mostly disappointingly routine, particularly lyrically ("Why Do Happy Memories Hurt So Bad"). He does contribute one brilliant effort, "It's Time To Stop Shopping Around," an update on his earlier "Shop Around" with loads of clever touches, and enjoyable backing vocals by the Temptations. It's also nice to hear Syreeta Wright, who duets on "Love Brought Us Here Tonight." Other high-profile guests include Kenny G (who does some good work, believe it or not), Buchanan, and Da Costa. Smokey's voice still sounds great (although he does some fudging on the highest notes), and he's probably got at least one more comeback in him. (DBW)

Love, Smokey (Robinson: 1988)
I've seen this around a lot, but never cheap enough for me to take a chance on it. (DBW)
Ditto here. (JA)

Double Good Everything (Robinson: 1991)
Smokey took the reins again, producing and writing every track except the sappy overblown "When A Woman Cries." The result is a charmingly small record, just Smokey and his band (including Sonny Burke on keyboards) playing tuneful Adult Contemporary nostalgia. Melodic numbers like "I Can't Get Enough" and "Double Good Everything" recall his prime, and he even stretches out on the bluesy "Rack Me Back." Mostly love songs once again, sometimes quite corny ("Be Who You Are"), though he comes up with another social conscience number, "Skid Row." This record flopped, but if you're nostalgic for Smokey's crooning and unpretentious pop, give this a try. (DBW)

Intimate (1999)
The approach on Smokey's latest comeback is to combine his usual smooth vocals and romantic lyrics with semi-up-to-date slinky synth backing courtesy of arranger/producer/co-writer Michael Stokes. It's tastefully done and generally tuneful, with Smokey recapturing the lighthearted magic of days gone by on songs like "Easy To Love" and the Latinized "Tu Me Besas Muy Rico." Motown founder Berry Gordy stirred from his lair long enough to write two pretty good, bouncy numbers with Michael Lovesmith, "I'm The One" and "Ready To Roll." The problem is, the laid-back delivery, inoffensive tone and programmed backing tracks have smoothed away anything resembling a rough edge, and there's almost nothing here that really grabs your attention. Pleasant background music, but that's all it is. Worse still, David Foster's ballad "Love Love Again" is remarkably trite. Still, fans will be thrilled to hear Smokey in such fine voice and sounding so comfortable in a 90s R&B context. Stokes and Lovesmith play most of the instruments between them, with assists from Paul Jackson Jr., Charles Fearing Jr. and Marlon McClain (guitar), Gerald Albright (sax) and the ageless Paulinho Da Costa (percussion). (DBW)

Food For The Spirit (2004)
A Christian-themed album with everything written by Robinson, and while he slips in some clever wordplay ("Jesus Told Me To Love You"), he mostly stays focused on his message ("Standing On Jesus"; "He Can Fix Anything"). Robinson's voice is lovely and occasionally enthusiastic ("I Have Prayed On It"), and he comes up with some memorable refrains ("The Road To Damascus"). The big problem is the production by Michael Stokes, a lifeless concoction of stale synth and drum loops that's "soul" only in the nominal sense. There's a guitar here and there, and touches of background vocals, but there's no flair or unpredictability in the arrangements, just deadening 4/4 certainty ("We Are The Warriors"). (DBW)

My World: The Definitive Collection (2005)
A greatest hits with two new tracks. (DBW)

Timeless Love (2006)
A Great American Songbook album, which isn't usually my thing. But this is better than most, partly because Robinson's penchant for cuteness in rhyming is spiritually akin to Cole Porter's ("Night And Day"), and partly because he pushes himself as a singer ("Our Love Is Here To Stay") when he could have just coasted on his restrained cool. The lion's share of the credit, though, must go to arranger/pianist Sonny Burke, who makes daring use of strings ("Tea For Two"), creating novel underpinnings on familiar songs ("Fly Me To The Moon"), and if that wasn't enough, also contributes a stirring solo on "You Go To My Head." The centerpiece is a spry, slippery medley of the standard "I'm In The Mood For Love" with James Moody's "Moody's Mood For Love." Occasionally the experimentation goes awry, as on the gimmicky Spanish section of "Night And Day," but far more often it works (Jamerson-style bass on "I've Got You Under My Skin"). Smokey sneaks one of his tunes into the mix, "I Love Your Face"; I am penalizing him for slipping Cyndi Lauper's overrecorded "Time After Time" into a medley with the Cahn-Styne tune of the same name. The cast of musicians includes familiar faces from Tarplin to Freddie Washington and Da Costa; produced by Robinson. (DBW)

Time Flies When You're Having Fun (2009)
Smokey does Supernatural: collabs with Joss Stone ("You're The One For Me," not the Marvin Gaye song) and Santana (the simmering funk "Please Don't Take Your Love"), a cover of the Norah Jones hit "Don't Know Why," and so on. Because it is Smokey, though, it ends up being tasteful (with the possible exception of "Love Bath") and harmless, if heftless. Production-wise it's right on point, as the faster tunes don't sound forced or clattery ("Girlfriend," with grooving acoustic guitar and flute) while the ballads don't drag ("Time Flies"), and somehow his voice seems unchanged by the passage of years ("That Place"). Musicians include Jackson Jr., David T. Walker and Ray Parker Jr. (guitar), David Garfield (keys), Washington and Rickey Minor (bass), Ricky Lawson (drums), plus co-producer Gary Gold on keyboards and drums. (DBW)

Smokey & Friends (2014)
Another set of duets with big-name guests, and the pairings are obvious: the rocker (Steven Tyler) gets "You've Really Got A Hold On Me"; the mellow R&B balladeer (John Legend) gets "Quiet Storm"; etc. I can't explain what Jessie J is doing on "Cruisin'" but I guess she's the 2014 version of Joss Stone. The biggest disappointment is Cee Lo Green's punchless run through "The Way You Do (The Things You Do)"; the high point, predictably, is Mary J. Blige, who seems constitutionally incapable of a humdrum performance. (DBW)


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