Title - 'I Love You' (Manhattan Records)
Artist - Diana Ross
As a singer, Diana Ross has always been more of a pop chanteuse than an R&B stylist, and this is most evident with her latest recording, her first in nearly eight years and timed to coincide with the release of the movie version of "Dreamgirls" which takes its dramatic cues from her earlier life. It's reassuring that her voice at 62, sounds as good as it ever has, sometimes with that uniquely silky luster when she is inspired. The problem is that those moments of inspiration are few and far between on this disc. Hinging on a general theme of classic love songs, Ross primarily covers overly familiar songs in arrangements not too far removed from the originals.
Produced by longtime studio veteran Peter Asher, the disc suffers from not only a predictable song selection but also a lack of risk-taking that could have taken advantage of Ross' unique song stylings. As an example of the pervasive apathy, listen to her unfortunate cover of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away", in which she adds virtually nothing to Terri Nunn's melancholic performance. The same unfavorable comparison can be felt on Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful", the Spiral Staircases' "More Than Yesterday" and Luther Vandross' "Always and Forever", all of which Ross brings only a superficial sheen with little room for reinterpretation. Other selections seem merely misjudged reflecting an ill-suited match with her vocal sensibilities, for instance, the forced air of buoyancy on Lennon and McCartney's "I Will". She also suffers for the quiet storm treatment of "Only You" and the calypso-accented doo-wop of "This Magic Moment".
Yet, this recording is not a total misfire. Some of her best work here is when she seems a bit more energized, for example, her effervescent cover of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" and the jazzed-up cover of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" that echoes the dance beats of "Love Hangover". Even her insistently gauzy romanticism cannot defeat a true classic - Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "The Look of Love", which benefits significantly from the Brazilian-style acoustic fretwork by Heitor Pereira, even though the arrangement is otherwise identical to Dusty Springfield's 1967 original. Not too surprisingly, Ross fares best on the lesser known songs - the beautiful Brenda Russell-penned ballad "What About Love", which sounds quite a bit like Russell's "Piano in the Dark", and the disc's only new song, the sauntering "I Love You (That's All That Really Matters)" which is the only track that takes full advantage of Ross' higher range. For all of her considerable talents, I just wish Asher used this opportunity to challenge Ross to go beyond her comfort zone of adult contemporary fodder. This one is for die-hard fans.