Simply Red, "Blue Eyed Soul" (BMG)
"Blue Eyed Soul," Simply Red's 12th album, is not innovative, groundbreaking, cutting-edge, topical or extensive. But it's a lot of fun and its title is comfortingly accurate.
Mick Hucknall's band, together in its current incarnation for over 15 years, has been closely identified with soul and R&B since its 1985 debut "Picture Book." This album can be considered a sequel to Hucknall's second solo record, "American Soul," a 2012 collection of covers.
While the music on the two records hits many of the same cues, the 10 new songs were all written by Hucknall and reflect how deeply the icons of the genre, from James Brown and Maurice White to Curtis Mayfield and Nile Rodgers, are ingrained in his craft.
Long after his wild years, Hucknall appears to be a model of domesticity and says he wrote songs he thought the rest of the band would "like to play night after night."
At the same time, Hucknall also provides himself a strong set of tunes to match his own talents. Recording the vocals mostly live "with one or two repairs" and placing them front and centre in the mix gives them a noticeable freshness.
Clocking in at just over 33 minutes, the album fits comfortably on two sides of vinyl, though those opting for the CD get a slightly different running order. If you want to experience it as Hucknall apparently intended, the string-drenched "Tonight" should be track five, making the Latin-tinged "Chula" the closer.
With the exception boogie-down leadoff track "Thinking of You," Hucknall's preferred order puts the slower songs at the start, including the moving "Complete Love."
The hot side starts with a sweet, repetitive bass line and horn accents that guide "Ring That Bell" into funky territory, while "BadBootz" features a Chic-like chink-a-chink rhythm guitar. "Don't Do Down" clearly draws from the James Brown catalogue.
"Blue Eyed Soul" is a return to basics and includes plenty of the band's typical suave vibrations. What elevates it another notch are the grittier, lively sounds that Simply Red also excels at, when it wants.