A realistic view of life is refreshing and when it comes to music this is particularly appreciated when it comes to relationships. Stevie Wonder can on the same album can give a picture of the fullness of being in love and full devotion to the sombre aspects of the breakdown of a relationship capturing the emotions of both situations so vitally and vividly that even if you haven’t been through the experience you get a good idea of the sort of sentiments involved. Not many songwriters or singers can pull that off to the level that he does.
One song that highlights that more than any other is this song – Blame It On The Sun. Here Wonder mournfully reflects on lost love and those recriminations and thoughts on why it happened. When you hear it on the Talking Book album and then hear Looking For Another Love it’s the perfect two-sides of the coin situation where one concedes responsibility for the relationship breakdown, and the other looks to move on from the broken pieces of it. That’s one of many reasons why Talking Book in my opinion is Stevie’s best album. This song is so rich and lush and moving even where Wonder’s vocals may rise from time to time, but it’s usually almost subdued in favour of a rising musical accompaniment and sad backing vocals. This is melancholy at its best without being miserable.
So to take on the song in covering it requires a number of factors, not just getting it right musically and mood wise, but also nailing the vocal sense of the track. That combination of factors in the ever treacherous world of covers means you tread carefully when you put one out there. This Jose Feliciano effort shows how hard the balance is to strike. Vocally Jose can passionately convey those emotions well enough. The tricky bit comes with the musical feel which is bit strange at the beginning and then is somewhat spoilt at the end with an upbeat ending that somewhat belies the mood and sentiment of the piece. The backing vocals as well are a bit more up rather than sad. Still, Jose himself carries the piece well vocally.
On the other side of the stream feeling wise in the music Diana Krall’s version in this tribute to Wonder has it down fairly well. That slower pace in line with the original is fitting and getting the background vocals along the same lines. So the mood is good and the sound is great. It’s not a major criticism, but vocally I’m not convinced she’s got herself comfortable with the song and she gets the lyrics messed up a bit, which doesn’t help when they guide you through the gamut of the protagonists agonising over what happened. That is not to say Krall is not up to the effort and it is more than commendable and enjoyable.
In a move that genuinely came as a surprise to me, arguably the best cover version of the track I’ve heard to date comes from Diana Ross. Now that’s not a surprise to those who rate Ms Ross highly, but it is a surprise for those like myself who don’t see her strengths as being an outstanding vocalist. Yet arrangement wise, vocally, structurally, feel-wise and the mood is spot on. This version has its own sense of melancholy invested in it with the help of the strings and what turns out to be a good updating of the tune to a ballad that fits Ross like a glove. You get the feeling she knows what she’s singing about and it is not a stretch to consider her regretting what was done to end the relationship. What I do admire Ross for is that she doesn’t try to out-twiddle and do vocal gymnastics on tunes like some of her peers. She just emotes with the breathing and vulnerability or strength of voice as required. That works to good ends in this track which is not any weaker for the lack of backing vocals.
And so we end at the beginning with one of those luscious unplugged versions of the song. I love hearing just Stevie on the piano giving a version of a song that we’ve heard previously lavished with loving production and musical beefing. Stripping tracks down to these basics give us a good handle on how he would have started it initially. We’re also treated to Stevie doing this as a duet with Tom Jones. Now Tom is a strong singer and a real man’s man kind of singer – no Michael Jackson higher reaches of the feminine side of man for him. No get to the machismo end of the scale for Jones. To his credit though he invests his strong character in a proper fashion in his take on the song and the duet works a treat. Plus as Stevie duets go I reckon this is one of the better ones that work well in contrasting the angst and anger behind things and the sorrowful concessions.
So there you have it a seriously underrated Stevie song worth revisiting once again through these big stars who have seen the benefit of taking this Wonder jewel and running with it. Enjoy.