Downtown Records, 2010
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/15/2010
Make no mistake – Cyndi Lauper is one of the greatest female vocalists that has ever lived. Her incredible depth and range leaves almost all of her contemporaries eating her dust. She is an awesomely powerful live performer and can hold a note for an eternity. I saw her show a couple of years ago and was lucky enough to have a front row, dead center seat in the intimate theater, and several times her voice almost lifted me off the ground.
So I know having been a long time fan that Lauper puts in 100% to everything she does and nothing less will do. I mention all of this because I still can’t quite figure out just why Memphis Blues even exists. Lauper’s profile has been shot right back into the mainstream thanks to her engaging performance on a rubbish TV show that was seen by old fans who were unaware that she was still “out there” and, of course, newly converted fans who are now eager for more of Cyndi Lauper.
So instead of capitalizing on this and writing some new material for what would have made a great return to the pop world that made her a star, Lauper chose to do yet another covers album, and a blues one at that. Unfortunately, this ends up being possibly the worst album of her entire career. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a Lauper release and actually cringed because she sounds so out of her depths. She is constantly showed up by her special guests, and although her band has put in a stellar performance, it just doesn’t work; this is one trick that Lauper just couldn’t pull off.
Back in 2003, she made a fantastic album (Stay), covering some old standards with some radical arrangements and her trademark powerhouse voice in fine form. That record was brilliant because everything the material demanded Lauper could deliver so well. That is exactly what makes this disc so disappointing; not everyone can actually sing the blues, and Lauper is definitely one. I mean, you either have it or you don’t, and there’s no harm in trying, but someone should have pulled the plug on this one long before it was finished.
Hearing Lauper trying desperately to match the intensity of Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica on opener “Just Your Fool” is just embarrassing to say the least. And even when she’s trying to play it cool on “Rollin’ And Tumblin,” she is again outplayed by a smoking hot Ann Peebles. If only this were an Ann Peebles album, now that would’ve been something. Allen Toussaint and B.B. King appear on “Early In The Morning,” which is easily the best song on the disc by far. Lauper’s performance is not great, but she plays it cool and her guests both offer beautiful performances.
Jonny Lang’s guitar and voice are the only redeeming qualities to be found on “How Blue Can You Get?” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” because once again, Lauper just doesn’t have the blues in her. I don’t know what else to really say about this record, to be honest. It’s just a bad idea that never should have made it to fruition. I can’t write it off completely, though, because the band and guests all gave great performances, I mean, musically, it’s fantastic. But that’s all that is positive about it, and that to me (a big Lauper fan), is a hard pill to swallow.