It’s been 10 years since blue-collar pop-rocker Huey Lewis had a minor hit with “Cruisin’,” his cover of the Smokey Robinson jam performed with his Duets costar Gwyneth Paltrow. One might assume that his brief fling with Motown had something to do with the making of Soulsville—that a deep, consuming love of vintage soul music compelled Huey Lewis And The News to celebrate the Stax/Volt catalog with a collection of the label’s legendary tunes. But according to Lewis, the whole idea was his manager’s. It shows. With all the joy of punching a clock, Lewis and crew assemble exhausted versions of classics by Stax/Volt stars like Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, and The Staple Singers. In particular, Lewis’ deflated renditions of Solomon Burke’s “Got To Get You Off My Mind” and “Cry To Me”—the latter being most famous via Dirty Dancing—serve as a pathetic epitaph for the late King Of Rock & Soul. Credit goes to whoever picked “Just One More Day” over a more obvious Otis Redding song; the smoldering track is one of the few here that rises above the level of really good karaoke. There’s a lot to be said for Lewis’ work ethic and nose-to-the-grindstone grit. What these songs need, though, isn’t grunting, grueling workmanship—it’s soul. And Soulsville just doesn’t have it.
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