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A Time To Love - Press Release

"A Time 2 Love": Stevie Wonder
by Michael Heyliger
Thursday December 30, 2005

Stevie Wonder is easily one of the five most important figures in contemporary music, regardless of genre. As a vocalist, he's influenced just about EVERY soul singer that's followed him. As an instrumentalist, he pioneered the concept of the one-man band, often playing keyboards, bass and drums on his own records. He's also almost solely responsible for the synthesizer revolution of the Seventies and Eighties.

As a songwriter? Forget about it. With the possible exception of Lennon/McCartney, Stevie is the most important songwriter of the latter part of the 20th century, able to create standards that ran the gamut from the most exquisite of love songs ("You Are The Sunshine Of My Life", "You & I", "Rocket Love") to the most hardcore protest songs ("Superstition", "Living For The City"). As a philanthropist and an instrument for social change, he is nearly peerless among entertainment figures. He was an integral part of the civil rights movement, not to mention that he was one of the public figures most responsible for making Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. What do Bono, Alicia Keys, Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Lenny Kravitz, R. Kelly, Norah Jones and Adam Levine all have in common? All of them strongly wear the scent of Stevie's influence.

Thing is, "A Time For Love", Stevie's first album since 1995's "Conversation Peace", is well worth the wait. At age 55, you would think that the man has lost...something. I mean, how many folks whose stardom predates The Beatles are capable of making relevant music into the 21st century?

First off, we should thank the headstrong Wonder (the man IS a Taurus) for not succumbing to any modern trends. Barring a synthesizer or two and modern production, this album could've been made in 1995, 1985, or 1975. And although he's 10 years away from senior citizen-dom, Stevie's joy for making music, his boundless energy, and his desire to initiate social change through love has not dimmed one bit.

Although the man has been known in his later years as a balladeer, he's still got the funk in him. "So What The Fuss" has a deep, rubbery bass stomp. Stevie spits rapid-fire lyrics over the song's syncopated groove, topped off with bluesy guitar licks from Prince and vocal sweetening from En Vogue. It's a sassy, finger-wagging good time of a single that proves Steveland has not lost his sly charm. Then you can check out the equally funky but more playful "Please Don't Hurt My Baby". The man isn't preaching, just casting a wink and a grin at a variety of cheatin' folks swearing their lovers to secrecy.

Stevie's all about "Positivity", as one song states, and although any regular artist would take a song like this and turn it into a cheese-fest, Stevie turns it into a life-affirmin', hand-clappin' good time. It's the difference between someone just singing a song and someone actually MEANING what they sing.

"Time To Love" definitely has a more pronounced jazz influence than Stevie's previous efforts. "My Love Is On Fire" is a midtempo strut, with a summery, bright arrangement. It's uplifting and mellow at the same time. Hubert Laws' flute solo at the end of the record feels like a cool breeze wafting in after the simmer of the rest of the song. The moody "Moon Blue" and the romantic "True Love" also help set a particular mood. "True Love", in particular, is sure to be covered by Norah Jones or Diana Krall or one of those standards singers at some point in the future. When I hear this song, I picture a scene in black and white, with two elegantly dressed people enveloped in a tight clench, dancing slowly but assuredly to the beat of the music, but lost in their own romantic world. And that's to say nothing of Stevie's vocal performance. His voice can raise the dead to stand up and scream "Hallelujah!"

Want proof that singing talent just might be genetic. Witness the recorded debut of Stevie's daughter Aisha Morris (the squealing baby on "Isn't She Lovely" all those years ago) on the jazzy ballad "How Will I Know". The back and forth between Stevie and Aisha is effortless. His daughter has a rich, somewhat deep vocal tone not unlike Lalah Hathaway or india.arie. Incidentally, arie pops up on the album's epic title track, where Stevie gets on his soapbox and asks the leaders of the world to unite in the name of love and make the world a better place. As stated earlier, 95% of all other singers would take a message like this and Disney-fy it to the point of sheer corniness. I don't know whether Stevie has some secret formula that makes his simply worded thoughts stick to the ribs or whether the beauty of his singing voice just makes me forget about the corn. Either way, it works.

There's a lot more I could go into here. The pristine pop balladry of the wedding-themed "From The Bottom Of My Heart", the silly/giddy/tender "Sweetest Somebody I Know", the Dr. Dre meets blues harmonica & slide guitar stomp of "Tell Your Heart I Love You", but you get the picture. Upon sliding this album into the CD player, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Although Stevie remains an electrifying performer, both on stage and on record ten years is ten years.

...and I was wrong for ever doubting Stevie Wonder. No, it's not "Talking Book", "Innervisions", or "Songs In The Key Of Life". I don't know if albums like that will ever be recorded again. But it's easily as consistent as anything Stevie's recorded in a quarter-century, and in today's somewhat stale music scene, "A Time To Love" is as good as a drink of ice water after two days in the desert.