Warren Hill,
Love Songs
(Narada Jazz, 2002)

As with new age music, the smooth jazz tag is often applied equally to works of serious jazz artistry and to glorified elevator music, and the line between the two can be alarmingly difficult to discern sometimes. Warren Hill dances back and forth all over this line on Love Songs, his seventh album. Counting David Sanborn among his influences but choosing to stay mostly in mainstream pop territory on this release, Hill apparently likes to have it both ways. If you've ever wanted to hear smooth jazz versions of old favorites like Paul McCartney's "My Love" and Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," then by all means run out right now and buy this disc. In the same vein, Hill covers "Oh Girl," "My Funny Valentine," "At Last" and "You Are So Beautiful." Hill has it both ways on the CD package photos, too, looking both tough and sensitive at the same time with his long hair, black leather, bare feet and baby daughter.

Love Songs also features four new love songs, three of which are Hill originals. On the first track, "September Morning," once you get past the fear that you might have been given a Kenny G album by mistake, you'll find a well-played, well-produced composition with a lovely melody and good backing musicians, sounding like a natural for smooth jazz airplay. Hill wrote this song shortly after the events of Sept. 11 and dedicated it to the people of New York City. On Lauren Hill's "Fallen," Hill reverts more to his Sanborn roots, providing a nice counterpoint to the previous tune. Hill breaks out some boy band-style vocal harmonies on "Because of You," which is also a well-executed love song. "Dancing With You," sung in Spanish, has a Spanish guitar accompaniment that is later joined by Hill's saxophone.

The covers as well as the originals are all well played, produced and arranged by Hill, with help from an all-star group of session pros that includes guitar-meister Tim Pierce. Hill is an accomplished session musician himself, as well as a member of the Guitars & Saxes touring ensemble. On "My Funny Valentine," he again has it both ways, as the song starts with a nice late-night smoky piano bar version of the classic song with vocals, then at about 2:42 into the track, the full smooth jazz band treatment kicks in with the sax taking over the vocal melody line. "Wonderful Tonight" features Jeff Golub playing a nice guitar part to balance the no-brainer slam-dunk melody being played on sax. "You Are So Beautiful" starts with an understated arrangement of just sax and piano. "At Last" sounds very much like the familiar Etta James version, again with sax carrying the vocal melody. A Toots Thielemans-style harmonica makes the song sound wimpy at times, but it's an undeniably great song and this is a very listenable version.

It's likely that closing the album with "My Love" was intended as a message to Hill's special someone, but only McCartney can get away with a song like this, and then it's only because he's, well, Paul McCartney. Hill gives it his best though, as he does on all of Love Songs, with a nice arrangement for sax, but the syrupy sweetness of it all might send you and your honey into insulin shock.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 28 December 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.