As with any tribute album, there were three ways to record this. The artists could have stayed so close to the original recordings, that one would think they were trying to channel Smitty and let none of their own artistry shine through. Alternatively, they could have made the songs so much their own that the listener goes away thinking, "Michael W. Who?". Instead, the musicians on this compilation chose a happy medium, maintaining Smith's original work while infusing it with their own sounds. Even Smith's own son, Ryan, strikes a good balance between his father's interpretation ofThe Race Is On and his own re-invention of the song.
Most of the songs on Ultimate Music Makeover are from the 1980s (a.k.a. Smith's perm era), probably pre-dating a large part of these artists' target audience. For those of us who are older than these songs, such a selection allows us to share Smitty's earlier music with a new generation. It also gave me a chance to re-visit and re-think these songs in a new light, uncovering new gems in Smith's writing.
Due to its largely upbeat nature, the album captures the energy of Smitty's live shows from that era. This feeling is compounded further by Taylor Sorensen's cover of Lamu, with its slight vocal reverb, extended outro, and a guitar-layering usually reserved for live performances. It was actually a bit jarring to hear no applause at the end of the track.
The album starts with All Star United's jangly cover of Go West Young Man and forges ahead, only slightly letting up on Plumb's Pray for Me and Stryper's Friends. (Yes, the other symbol of Christian music in the 80s closes out the album. While some might see any variation on Friends being akin to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa, Stryper's version does the song justice and removes some of the coating that can build up on an over-exposed song.) And the afore-mentioned "letting up" is only in energy level, not in quality -- I am hard-pressed to find a weak moment in this album.
To cite specific personal favorites would be moot, as "second helpings" of songs have particular meaning to particular people. But whether this is a review of past-loved music or one of your first exposures to Smith's music, this is definitely a disc worth giving a listen to. And then another. And then another. And then another.
Visit: Ultimate Music Makeover and Rocketown Records.