Perhaps there’s a heart for country music in the soul of Lionel Richie. The indomitable singer-songwriter has headed to the south for his latest musical envoy, resulting in shocking success. Could going country resurrect Lionel Ritchie’s career?
Lionel Richie is best-known for some of the biggest R&B and pop songs of the 1980’s and 90’s, but his tenth album heads to the south for creative inspiration: Tuskegee is a collection of some of Ritchie’s greatest hits, remade as duets with country music stars like Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, and Kenny Rogers.
It’s a brilliant plan: build on the success of the classic songs that fans love, and broaden their reach via the audiences of well-known country artists.
However, Richie’s evolution into country music is actually a rather natural progression for an Alabama boy that grew up on listening to country on the radio. Country music influenced Ritchie’s songwriting, and helped foster his friendship with country legend Kenny Rogers. Ritchie wrote the crossover hit “Lady” for Rogers, and in the year following produced Rogers’ album Share Your Love.
Yet it was young artists like Kenny Chesney who helped Ritchie realize the value his songs held in the country music community. Tuskegee has allowed Ritchie to not only capitalize on this popularity, but also give new life to his greatest hits through the country music oeuvre.
“The beautiful part about it is, once I started talking to Tim McGraw and to Kenny Chesney and all of them, it became clear: These songs (of mine) have already been country,” Richie explained to Rolling Stone magazine. “So Lionel Richie’s not ‘going country.’ I’m just joining the songs that are already there. I just have to show up next to ‘em and go, ‘That’s mine.’”
Ritchie’s formula of old-classics-gone-country is, for all intents and purposes, working – critics are loving Tuskegee’s heartfelt duets. “These recordings come off as carefully considered, with fresh arrangements that highlight the strengths of the material and the talents involved,” writes critic Michael McCall. The album has already sold 20,000 copies on HSN.
Yes, you read that right, the Home Shopping Network. Where your grandmother buys all her best gold jewelry, and apparently, Lionel Richie’s album, too. Richie performed a live concert on the network, which boasts an older audience still willing to buy physical albums.
Combined with his HSN blowout, industry experts are projecting that Tuskegee will sell 75,000 to 100,000 copies in its first week, a vast improvement from Richie’s last album, Just Go, which sold only 19,000 in its debut week. That album, for the record, was Ritchie’s attempt at a modern R&B sound. No doubt going country has reinvigorated his career to a new level R&B couldn’t take him.
Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse