Re-workings of Stevie Wonder classics is very much de rigueur this summer with the man himself performing for some four hours live in London, performing, ‘Songs in the key of life’, in its entirety. This latest volume by musician, producer and vinyl crate digger, DJ Spinna further delves into the archives and proves, if nothing else, that there is a seemingly bottomless pit of alternatives to the original compositions. However, DJ Spinna goes one step further by including a Billy Preston original in the Stevie Wonder tradition that features the latter on harmonica and background vocals.
One of the enduring elements of the Wonder magic from the 1970s was Stevie’s ability to soak up new musical trends and incorporate them into his own distinctive sound. Latin music in New York was enjoying a new golden era with Salsa and ‘Pastime Paradise’ reflected that infectious percussive beat. While Ray Barretto’s take on this is still the definitive re-take (arguably even stronger than the original), Sunlightsquare offer up a wonderful updated Reggaeton meets Salsa interpretation, with a stunning bass line coupled with beefy Latin percussion. Bossa hues are evident on ‘Golden lady’ from Reel People featuring Tony Monrelle on vocals, with fender and synths an affectionate harking back to the 1970s even though this version dates from 2011.
Carl Anderson scored an early 1980s underground soul hit with the breezy version of ‘Buttercup’, but interestingly the Jackson Five with Michael on lead had beaten him to it with an excellent 1970s interpretation that sounds as though the brothers were now past the Motown pop-oriented sound and entering more sophisticated musical terrain with Philly soul a next destination. For a left-field contender, look no further than the John Minnis Big Band and, You’re in need of love today’. The Donny Hathaway influenced lead vocals are a joy to behold and the jazzy keyboards add a new dimension to the song. Elsewhere the Latin shuffle in the drum intro to, ‘If you don’t love me’ by G.C. Cameron impresses, while Stax flavours emerge loud and clear from David Porter’s emphatic and gritty reading of ‘I don’t know why I love you’.
Finally, if this writer had to whittle down some memorable Stevie Wonder covers, then they would probably include Michael MacDonald’s ‘Living for the city’, The Players Association’s instrumental take on ‘ I wish’ in addition to the aforementioned Ray Barretto English language slice of Latin-soul. Part of the fun of this kind of compilation is that it immediately invites comparisons elsewhere and on this score alone, is more than worth the admission price.