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A Time To Love - Press Release

Detroit News

The Wonder of it all

Legendary Motown singer Stevie Wonder is back to shower us with love on his first album in 10 years
Susan Whitall
Saturday October 08

One of the best things about the pop music of the '60s and '70s was that so much of it either reflected or inspired the events of the day. Any talk of the political churn of the late '60s and early '70s is inevitably accompanied by a soundtrack of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" or a Temptations' Norman Whitfield-produced work like "Ball of Confusion."

Stevie Wonder grew up in this heady atmosphere and came to embody that passionate, timely sound. Taught musically by top Motown producers such as Hank Cosby and players such as Earl Van Dyke and the Funk Brothers, the 11-year-old whom Berry Gordy Jr. signed in 1961 soaked up the musical teachings like a sponge, then took the pop world by storm with his live, harmonica-driven 1963 single "Fingertips Part II."

Now, with the Motown release "A Time 2 Love," his first album in 10 years, Wonder has an album of new music -- 15 songs, no filler -- that equals some of his best work of the past. Its sound is somehow timeless, yet very much of the moment.

That a veteran musician should have a burst of creative passion in midlife -- Wonder is 55 -- is rare enough that excitement over this work has been building. The album will be released to stores in CD form on Oct. 18 but was made available last week via legal downloads from sites such as iTunes and

Yahoo music, mostly so that it would qualify for Grammy consideration. Comparison to classic Wonder albums such as "Talking Book" and "Songs in the Key of Life" are inevitable, because "A Time 2 Love" is a return to form for the 21-time Grammy winner. While Wonder has spun pop gold in recent years, the passion and funk haven't always been there.

Now, with "Please Don't Hurt My Baby," we know Wonder can still produce the kind of edgy funk he perfected in the '70s and early '80s that's so widely sampled and used in commercials. He kicks the song off with a feisty vocal and a snarling keyboard line, setting up an irresistible call and response between feuding male and female choruses. The song "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved," has an anthemic quality, with a duetting vocal by gospel singer Kim Burrell and a wonderful backing chorus directed by Kirk Franklin.

The love songs are many, and wondrous. "The Sweetest Somebody" is an early favorite with many listeners, with its languid bossa nova beat, punctuated by a guitar part played by Brazilian Oscar Castro-Neves, one of the founding fathers of bossa nova.

The beautifully sad "Moon Blue," with lyrics co-written with "The Color Purple" actress Akosua Busia, has a melody that's instantly burned into the listener's brain and sounds like an instant jazz tandard.

Wonder's voice, still a wonderfully pliant instrument, has a deeper, burnished tone, but still has the hopeful spirit of his youth. On "Moon Blue," though, there is an otherworldly feel to his vocal, a deeper emotional feel than he's sung with in years. He also plays a piano part at the end of the song that will remind anyone who's heard him riff on jazz classics such as "Giant Steps" how sophisticated his playing can be.

A message of love Universal and Motown have been eager for this release to serve notice that Motown's storied past isn't quite over, that one of its best artists is viable in today's market.

Wonder has tried to explain his painstaking pace of recording, saying that he didn't want to rush, but wanted to release "A Time 2 Love" when the time was exactly right. Talking in a dressing room at the Palace of Auburn Hills during June's NBA Finals, Wonder said he believed a message of love was overdue in today's pop marketplace.

"I'm a married man, I understand," Wonder said, laughing, referring to the joys of sex. But he felt the physical side of love was overexposed in music today and its spiritual element largely absent. His new music was intended to offset that.

"The way the world is right now, we need more love," Wonder said. And musicians had the responsibility to espouse a more positive message, he felt.

Sylvia Rhone, who heads up Motown Records, echoed his sentiments in a statement, saying in part. "Nobody can illuminate our greatest hopes, soothe our deepest fears, and put us on the musical high road like Stevie Wonder."

Wonder was born Stevland Judkins in Saginaw in 1950 (he prefers to use Morris, his mother's maiden name). A premature baby, tragically, he became blind because of an excess of oxygen in his incubator. Wonder's mother Lula moved her children to Detroit when Wonder was still a toddler, and he showed an early, astonishing facility for music.

The boy would sit on the front stoop playing his harmonica, first on the east side, then at a house on Greenlawn Street on the west side near Bagley Elementary School. Neighbors remember him as a cheerful child who they'd see dressed in a baby-blue tuxedo, getting ready for a Motown concert.

When he became an adult, Wonder tore up his Motown contracts and insisted upon control of his music. His songs became political in the '70s, but in a different way than his label mate Marvin Gaye's, perhaps reflecting Wonder's sunnier nature.

His was a more subtle message of peace and redemption through love. Wonder sang of the injustice of urban poverty, but he was usually quantifying the joy and pain of love, exploring the emotional politics between a man and a woman.

No matter what the topic, there was always beauty in the pain, whether in his ethereal, timeless love songs or his earthier, more topical music.

A new father at 55 What might be sparking many of the new love songs is that Wonder is clearly happy and in love -- his marriage to fashion designer Kai Milla (aka Karen Millard-Morris) is just four years old. The couple are the parents of Kailand, who appears on his father's new record. The 4-year-old, obviously tired of the recording process, bursts into the studio on the song "Sweetest Somebody I Know" yelling "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. OK, that's enough!" Wonder and his wife also have a new baby, a son, Mandla Kadjaly Carl Stevland Morris, born May 13, his father's 55th birthday.

The baby is Wonder's seventh child. He was married previously, to singer Syreeta Wright, and has children from other relationships. His daughter, Aisha Morris, last heard as a giggling baby on Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" (from 1976's "Songs in the Key of Life"), duets with her father on two songs. Her soft voice on "How Will I Know" has her father's tone and sweetness, which gives the track a potent intimacy. This is an album of collaborations, but it's no cliché duets project for a performer tapped out of ideas. Wonder has chosen his musical partners with care, and nobody overshadows him (even if we're puzzling over early '90s-hip rapper Doug E. Fresh a bit).

Jazz fusion great Hubert Laws adds the perfect flute solo to "My Love is On Fire," recalling some of the deft flutework that the late Beans Bowles layered into Wonder's early Motown songs. "Tell Your Heart I Love You" has a laid back, seriously funky groove, thanks in part to Bonnie Raitt's slide guitar.

Veteran Motown arranger Paul Riser did the charts for horns and strings on several songs, including "My Love is on Fire" and "Shelter from the Rain," a song Wonder has designated to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. And more than 20 years after Wonder and Paul McCartney hit with the duet "Ebony and Ivory," the Beatlean knight provides acoustic and electric guitar to the title song.

It's hard to be cynical about Wonder's message of love after just a few listens to this album. It's impossible after reading the credits for "A Time 2 Love," when it's clear that the redemptive qualities of love have helped Wonder through some tough years.

The singer thanks not only his children, the mothers of his children and every musician who crossed his path, but he even thanks the press. He tenderly praises ex-wife Syreeta Wright, to whom he was only married for two years in the early '70s. Wonder continued to be close to her and hoped she could sing on this album. That was not to be; Wright died two years ago of cancer, as did one of his brothers.