Lionel Richie proves that you can go home again with his new album, Tuskegee, a collection of 13 of his international hits performed as duets with todays country music superstars, and it feels even better than he hoped. Tuskegee represents a full-circle moment for the international icon who has returned to his Southern roots to create an album that serves as a highlight of his unforgettable body of work that touches people of all backgrounds, faiths and ages around the world.
These innovative musical interpretations have given new meaning to these anthems of our day, whether its pairing with Tim McGraw on "Sail On," joining Shania Twain on "Endless Love" or dueting with Kenny Chesney on the compelling "My Love." Blake Sheltons powerful voice brings a masculine Oklahoma sweetness to "You Are," while Sugarlands Jennifer Nettles overwhelming passion is haunting on "Hello." Jason Aldean brings a fresh country-rock edge to "Say You, Say Me," and Darius Ruckers soulfulness brings a rich texture to "Stuck On You," creating harmonies that sound like the two have been singing together for years. Rascal Flatts combines a contagious enthusiasm and a jaw-dropping vocal range for a memorable duet of "Dancin on the Ceiling," and Willie Nelsons unique phrasings on "Easy" create the rhythm of a gently rocking boat.
Eager to explore new ground, Lionel insisted that the other singers select the songs from his catalog to record, and he beseeched his partners to ignore his original versions and instead perform the songs as if they were their own. "The most important part of this album had to be that every artist had to leave the recording session and immediately want to put that song in their show," he says. "I wanted it the way they would do it in their show, which means I captured their essence. You make the song a Willie Nelson song. You make the song a Rascal Flatts song."
But to be sure, every note on Tuskegee represents Lionel's life, loves and family. "All the players that I thought had retired from the music business are now living in Nashville," he says. "So when I walked into the studio to start this album, it came full circle. Doing this album was just a mere fact of coming back to the beginning, back to basics, back to home. The part of it I love the most is that the journey has been one of discovering myself."
Lionel Brockman Richie Jr. was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, where he was exposed to country, gospel, R&B and classical music in equal parts, creating a musical foundation so strong that it has been able to withstand the industrys boundaries and barriers throughout his storied career. Young Lionel was a wide-eyed dreamer with a big but vulnerable heart who strived to please his grandmother, a classical pianist whose nod of acceptance meant everything to him. Like many boys, he struggled at times to find his place in a world that could make him feel awkward and out of place.
"Did my grandmother have an influence on me? Absolutely. In fact, every time I play one of those chords, wrapped around a little country vocal, wrapped around a little R&B twinge, thats the house," he says. "Thats the lady who lives in that house. I can almost see her face every time I come up with something else new as a song. Shed always ask that question, Now where did that come from? Or, Who told you how to do that? Its a part of that air in that house and around that town and in that community. Its just a part of life."