Each week “The Cutout Bin” features unjustly overlooked albums. In my opinion, they don’t come more unfairly ignored than Stevie Wonder’s most recent release, A Time to Love. More than a decade in the making, the CD shows that Wonder has much to say and can still create gorgeous music. However, the album received little airplay back in 2006, and during his promotional tour for the album, interviewers simply wanted to discuss the “old days” instead of focusing on his continuing creativity. Therefore the masses were largely deprived of listening to this worthy album.
Wonder’s last release, Conversation Peace, disappointed fans and critics with its heavy-handed hip-hop beats and slight lyrics. Wisely, he took ample time to create an album more in line with his best work, filled with spiritually and romantically uplifting lyrics, land soul. Does A Time to Love equal his 70s masterpieces? No, but the album exemplifies how Wonder follows his own muse and does not need to bow to current trends.
Throughout the album, it is evident that Wonder kept the Iraq war and current politics on the brain. On the first track, “If Your Love Cannot Be Moved,” he duets with gospel superstar Kim Burrell. With lyrics such as “You can’t shout out peace and then vanish in the crowd” and “You can’t ride the storm without some effect/You can’t steal the spoil and not pay the debt,” Wonder warns of acting without considering the consequences, of not standing up for your rights. A thunderous beat with a chorus singing in the background adds to the gravity of the song.
Fans of Songs in the Key of Life will love the second track, “Sweetest Somebody I Know,” which echoes classic tracks like “Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing.” In addition, Wonder treats us to a harmonica solo; he plays the instrument frequently on this album, which is a welcome return to form. “From the Bottom of My Heart,” a light pop song, also features the harmonica prominently.
Those who enjoy ballads like “Overjoyed” will appreciate “Moon Blue,” a sultry jazz-influenced number where he shows off his full vocal range. An unabashed romantic, Wonder performs almost old-fashioned love songs like “True Love,” where he wishes to find his soulmate; another cut, “How Will I Know,” expresses largely the same sentiment. On the latter track he duets with his daughter Aisha, best known as the inspiration behind “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Prefer his funky tracks? Look no further than “Please Don’t Hurt My Baby,” a battle-of-the-sexes song that warns against infidelity. Toward the end, the male and female backup singers (partially composed by En Vogue) trade lines, warning each other of the consequences of cheating. Everyone, including Wonder, obviously had great fun recording this track. “So What the Fuss” continues the “Superstition”-like funk, and features Prince on guitar and En Vogue singing backup. Similar to “If Your Love Cannot Be Moved,” he cautions against blaming others for your actions. What a joy to hear him return to his activist roots!
Another interesting song, “Shelter in the Rain,” originally addressed the death of Wonder’s ex-wife. After Hurricane Katrina, the song gained new meaning about providing shelter from adversity; consequently, Wonder donated proceeds from the single to the Wonder Foundation for Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts. This track is nicely balanced with “Positivity,” a perfect summarization of Wonder’s eternal optimism. Once again, daughter Aisha provides backup support as he describes his life philosophy: “I'm not saying sometimes life can't be rough/But never to the point of me saying I've had enough/Long as my heart beats I ain't giving up.” An infectious beat punctuates these words, making the track irresistible.
A Time to Love ends with a tour de force: the title track, a rallying cry for peace. Dueting with India Arie, Wonder speaks out against the war with lyrics such as the following:
"Not enough money for / The young, the old and the poor / But for war there is always more / When will there be a time to love."
The song gradually escalates into a hand-clapping, gospel-like prayer for peace, and then ebbs into Indian percussion. Paul McCartney plays guitar on the track, although he does not particularly stand out; after all, the song truly belongs to Wonder (although Arie admirably keeps up with the legend). Best of all is when Wonder talks over the song, stating that when “wives don’t want to see their husbands, sons, or brothers die anymore, the wars will stop.” Like classics such as “You Haven’t Done Nothin” or “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” Wonder conveys both sorrow and hope, anger and activism, apathy and empathy, all in one song. “A Time to Love” provides a stunning conclusion to an already memorable album.
As you can probably tell, I’m a huge Stevie Wonder fan. But A Time to Love’s themes are so universal, and the music so different than anything else on the music scene today, virtually anyone can appreciate this special album. While it’s understandable to reminisce about past masterpieces, it’s important to realize that a legend like Wonder can still create music that still has something to say. Treat yourself to this thoroughly enjoyable, and enriching, listening experience.
“The Cutout Bin” is going on vacation for three weeks, but will return in late May. Until then, thank you as always for reading.Powered by Sidelines