Shanachie sent me a review copy of the upcoming Norman Connors CD called Star Power, to be released in February 2009. I have been a fan and follower of Norman Connors career since its beginning, equally enjoying his jazz albums like Dance Of Magic or Love From The Sun to his more soul/r&b inclined LPs Romantic Journey or This Is My Life. A Norman Connors album always has provided reliable musical enjoyment, so I was very eager to hear how this great artist sounds these days.
To get to the conclusion first: This CD has its moments, it definitely is good, but in my opinion could have been a lot better. Unfortunately, on smashing hip hop tracks like "Used To Be" and "Thinkin'", Norman Connors felt that he had to sacrifice some of his trademark qualities in order to reach today's younger audience. Additionally, to play it safe, we get our share of covers like Sade's "Sweetest Taboo", Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" (both stripped of their orginal magic with their uptempo renditions), Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" or Norman Connors' own "You Are My Starship" (at least Peabo Bryson's powerful performance does it justice). To my ears, most of these covers don't seem to add any real value to the album. Certainly the musicianship is on a high level with artists like Bobby Lyle, Christopher Williams, Ray Parker Jr., Peabo Bryson, Marion Meadows, Norman Brown and others, but the old magic shines through for me in only a few moments.
I always enjoyed the combination of jazz sensibilities and deep soul in Norman Connors music; he paired jazz players like Pharoah Sanders and Gary Bartz with singers like Jean Carn or Michael Henderson, who sang their hearts out in an "old school" way rarely heard these days. These hallmark qualities have gone on this current release, which is professional and polished, but could have gone a lot deeper. Anyway, if you like Norman Connors, go for this CD, just don't put it next to one of his classics like This Is Your Life or You Are My Starship. This album offers solid craftsmanship, but not the soul touching magic we have to come to expect from this artist.