Chicago’s Deep Blue Organ Trio mines one of popular soul artist Stevie Wonder’s most fertile creative periods—the late sixties through the early seventies—on Wonderful!. The organ trio format is known for its unvarnished soulfulness, and the group’s reverent treatment of these familiar hits gives a breezy lift to Wonder’s always engaging and ebullient melodies. Before about 1960 there was rhythm and blues in the record bins, which meant music made by anyone with an African heritage, be it the rough-hewn bluesman Robert Johnson or the smooth crooner Johnny Mathis. Then, in 1959, along came Berry Gordy with his Tamla and Motown Record labels—and soul music was born.
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Berry, via the music produced at his labels, was responsible in large part for the 1960s’ soul music explosion and its crossover to white audiences, with artists like Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, and one of the most successful of the crossovers, Stevie Wonder, who put out dozens of charting singles and several classic albums, including Talking Book (Motown, 1972) and Songs in the Key of Life (Motown, 1976).
A Hammond B3 organ, guitar and drums is a pared-down way to express music, especially Wonder’s often highly produced sounds. But it is a refreshing way to listen to Wonder’s songs, a way that emphasizes the purity of his catchy melodies. On “Jesus Children of America,” from one of Wonder’s handful of masterpieces, Innervisons (Motown, 1973), organist Chris Foreman drives the tune forward on a cold gusty wind, with drummer Greg Rockingham supplying an undercurrent of cymbal splashes, punctuated by snare drum pops. Guitarist Bobby Broom’s lines are sharp and piquant, slicing through the wash of the B3.
“My Cheri Amour,” the title track of Wonder’s 1969 album, and one of his most popular and recognizable tunes, get a ruminative treatment, laidback and relaxed, with Broom comping beautifully behind Foreman. “Golden Lady,” another huge Wonder hit from Innervisions, has a feeling of yearning, with Broom and Foreman trading the lead in front of turbulent drums.
Wonder’s music has always been well-crafted and tightly-arranged. The Deep Blue Organ Trio works with the same tight, flawless, soulful approach to music making, and they have crafted a fittingly Wonderful! tribute to living legend.
1. Tell Me Something Good
2. If You Really Love Me
3. Jesus Children Of America
4. My Cheri Amour
5. Golden Lady
6. You Havent Done Nnothin
7. It Aint No Use
9. You’ve Got It Bad Girl