Reimagining the Past, with Friends
TAKE THEM IN YOUR ARMS, ROCK THEM A LITTLE WHILE
Today, Lamont Dozier is home once more, in the company of those who shaped his life and career, who gave him wealth (literally and metaphorically), and who lifted him to recognition and acclaim.
The “companions” are some of Dozier’s classic Motown compositions, freshly recorded for his new album, Reimagination, which is set for release on this date, May 25. Two tracks, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “Baby I Need Your Loving,” have been available online for a while, and both performances of these Holland/Dozier/Holland songs are quite different to the ’60s originals.
There are guests at this homecoming, too. Country music queen Lee Ann Womack accompanies Lamont on “Baby I Need Your Loving,” while young British blues singer Jo Harman joins him – to powerful effect – on “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” They are not alone: Gregory Porter can be heard on “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and Marc Cohn on “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While),” while Rumer makes an appearance on “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
Reimagination has still more invitees: Graham Nash for a medley of the Supremes’ first four U.S. No. 1 hits, and Cliff Richard aboard a double-decker of “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)” and “My World Is Empty Without You.” Another combo is “Heat Wave” and “Nowhere To Run,” performed by Dozier with Harman.
TAKE YOUR PARTNERS, PLEASE
Thus, Lamont becomes the latest Motown legend to revisit earlier work in a complete album. Lionel Richie went country with 2012’s Tuskegee, on which such guests as Blake Shelton, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain duetted on his hits. A couple of years later, Smokey Robinson & Friends offered new recordings of his best-known songs as duets with the likes of James Taylor, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Sheryl Crow.
Yet Lamont predated both albums by his former Motown colleagues with 2001’s An American Original. Comparable in some respects to Reimagination, this also featured stripped-down performances of H/D/H classics. He even sang a couple of them live in London on September 22, 2001, during his first-ever U.K. concert dates. His interpretation of “My World Is Empty Without You” as a sombre ballad that night was particularly appropriate: the show took place shortly after 9/11. (On the subject of touring, Dozier was to have appeared in Britain in June, supported by Harman, but these dates were cancelled due to illness; the shows have been rescheduled for early 2019.)
The 12-track An American Original was Grammy-nominated in the Traditional R&B Vocal Album category, together with contenders by Gladys Knight, Regina Belle, Miki Howard, and the O’Jays (Knight’s work won). These days, the album is available digitally as Reflections of Lamont Dozier. On an early version, there was a 13th track, “This Is The Year,” an upbeat message song about a dream (“Wherever there was conflict/People all came together as one”) which, for the moment, is probably best left in the Dozier archives. In the current, divisive political climate on both sides of the Atlantic, such optimism might not play well.
FROM DETROIT, BY WAY OF NASHVILLE AND MEMPHIS
Lamont has done several interviews in the run-up to the release of Reimagination. Talking to Lois Wilson in Record Collector, he attributes the idea for the album to veteran record maker Fred Mollin. In The Memphis Flyer, Mollin tells J.D. Reager, “As a producer, I’ve done several records with great songwriters this way. Lamont was one of the first ones I wanted to do, but it’s taken 20 years to get it actually started.” Most of the recording was done in Nashville, according to Mollin, but tracks were also cut at the Royal Studios in Memphis. Dozier himself mentions to Reager that he and the producer previously worked at Royal “on a Cliff Richard record.” That sounds like 2011’s Soulicious, a 15-track package featuring Cliff in duets with a variety of R&B stars, including Brenda Holloway, Dennis Edwards, Valerie Simpson and Freda Payne. Much of that material was new, written by Lamont and his son, Beau.
As for the reimagined songs, Dozier has talked about many of them in the past, and often, befitting such 20th century standards. “This is a body of work that I will cherish and revere,” he told me in 2004 for the liner notes of Heaven Must Have Sent You: The Holland/Dozier/Holland Story, “because this was the door-opener, that started it all for me at Motown, working with the Hollands, and getting my wares and my talent out there, to let people know what I could do, and have done.
“Around 1962, I remember my uncle, James Allen, taking me to Motown. I remember getting out of the car and, as he and I took the walkway to the building, I said, ‘You know, James, I’m going to be one of the hottest producers and songwriters over here.’ Then I stopped myself and said, ‘I take that back. From here, I’m going to be one of the hottest songwriters and producers in the world.’ I said that, basically, because I had this dream gnawing at me, and this hunger, to become just that. So I put that comment out there, hoping that the muses and God and everybody else would hear me.”
So, as noted at the beginning, Lamont Dozier is back among those who helped him to fulfil such ambition. Apparently, he was heard that day on West Grand, 56 years ago.
Music notes: there is much of the man’s recorded legacy to be heard on digital services, in addition to Reimagination and Reflections of Lamont Dozier. For those who favour his post-Motown material, 2002’s Anthology compilation includes tracks from Out Here On My Own and Black Bach. Dozier’s Warner Bros. albums from the 1970s, such as Peddlin’ Music On The Side and Right There, don’t seem to be streamed by the likes of Spotify, although you can find the music on YouTube. Right There includes another fine “reimagination,” this being of the 1965 H/D/H masterpiece for the Four Tops, “It’s The Same Old Song.”