Thursday, December 22, 2011

More Wonder From The Jazz Tradition Of Stevie Wonder: Eivets Rednow Almost Works!

The Good: Musically interesting
The Bad: Short! Somewhat monotonous over multiple listens.
The Basics: Simplistic, a poor mix of energetic and depressing, Eivets Rednow, one of Stevie Wonder's more obscure albums doesn't seem to know what it wants to be.

Stevie Wonder is my male Artist Of The Month at the moment and as I review his various albums, I am reminded of the old saying, "I don't always know if something is good or bad, but I know what I like and what I don't." That's where I am with Stevie Wonder's album Eivets Rednow. This is one of Stevie Wonder's earliest albums and for those who doubt, spell Eivets Rednow backwards and see what you get.

And after my customary eight listens to this album, I am finding that I am not truly enjoying it. Instead, it is vague, background jazz that is largely indistinct. None of the songs pop in a way that are interesting enough to make me want to come back to the album. It is soft, melancholy, sleepy music and it feels like background mood music in a movie with a lot of dinner scenes. Add to that, it is short, making it a poor use of the c.d. medium. Had it been combined with one of Wonder's other early albums, I might have gone for it. As it is, it is just boring and for one inclined toward music with lyrics (though I have reviewed a number of Classical albums as well!) this is just dull in an unfortunate way.

With only nine tracks, clocking out at 32:03, Eivets Rednow, like many of Wonder's early albums, is less the creative vision of Stevie Wonder and more the producer and record label's vision. In this case, Henry Crosby produced the album and Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote two tracks, Wonder wrote one and the reason this is still viewed as a Stevie Wonder album is that Wonder performs on all nine tracks.

Stevie Wonder, in this context, is treated as a gifted musician. He plays harmonica, clavinet, and piano on various tracks. Wonder opens the album playing harmonica on Bacharach and David's "Alfie" which sounds like a motion picture soundtrack song . . . because it is. Slow and charismatic, the theme Wonder performs is played over a gentle, jazzy percussion and it has a slow, musing quality to it that wears thin after a few listens.

More upbeat is "More Than A Dream," which has Wonder again on harmonica using that almost like vocals over the brass and drums. The track has a big band, light swing sound and it almost defines the sound of driving on a sunny day. The album takes a turn for the melancholy with "A House Is Not A Home" and because the clavinet is the dominant instrument, one assumes that is what Wonder plays. This track is soulful and sad with the clavinet and a string section winding between one another to create a strong sense of loss and sadness that needs no words.

That is followed - awkwardly - by the lightstepping sound of "How Can You Believe," which Wonder seems to be playing the harmonica again. This track has a very limited pop melody and like a refrain with singsong rhymes that is repeated once too often, this track repeats itself and ultimately, it leaves the listener with the feeling that they have not ended up anywhere new and the song lacks a sense of consequence or meaning.

Track five is a medley called "Never My Love/Ask The Lonely" and this song does have a sense of movement. Opening with an almost nauseating decline on the scales - reminiscent of falling - Wonder plays the harmonica as a resistance to loss, as if the musical protagonist he is describing without words is deep in denial and fighting for a principle. The song has crescendos that lead the listener to believe the protagonist does overcome and the theme of the song is carried well to its end.

"Ruby" is a longer track that serves to remind us that longer is not necessarily better. Keeping in the melancholy theme, this actually sounds distractingly like "Unforgettable" and has a soaring string section that is strangely ponderous. As well, Wonder's harmonicas are only maintaining the melody, they do not offer the listener anything new, different or even exciting. The result is a slow jazz song that plods along somewhat listlessly. It is the musical equivalent of wandering down an empty street.

"Which Way The Wind" starts out with a big band sound, then quickly becomes the musical equivalent of the pop rendition of "Blue." The theme is repetitive and it has several similarities to the Stevie Wonder song upon which "Gangster's Paradise" was based. The thing is, there are audacious trumpets that perk up, but they punctuate a fairly blase theme.

Wonder's own "Bye Bye World" opens with a fanfare sound before becoming strangely energetic for a song with that title. Musically, with its staccato rhythms and accenting brass, is like a pimp walking down a sunny street pointing to all the neighbors he sees and letting loose a comment. The song wanders, is bright and cheerful and utterly defies the idea of leaving the world, right up until (and including) its climax.

The album closes with "Grazing In The Grass" a song so similar to "Bye Bye World" the only real differentiation becomes Wonder playing his harmonica again. This is another sunny, upbeat song that wander and leaves the listener with little impression of what they've just heard.

Having listened to Eivets Rednow over eight times now, that is the general feeling I am left with. This is pretty generic swinging jazz that seems frilly, insubstantial and in no way audacious or even interesting. The result of having this on high rotation is not enlightenment or enjoyment, it's a numbing boredom. Many artists have an album that has indistinct qualities track to track and for Stevie Wonder, if this is the low point, he ought to be proud: at least he was just performing other people's stuff.

The high point is "Never My Love/Ask the Lonely," the low point is the repetitive and boring "How Can You Believe."

For other works by Stevie Wonder, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie
Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I
Conversation Peace
Natural Wonder
The Definitive Collection
A Time To Love


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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