May 24, 2008

Donna Summer Still Hot Stuff On New Album

Too often with pop music, especially with dance-oriented music, slick production techniques supersede the expectation of an artist possessing actual singing ability. Clever hooks and beats compensate for any vocal deficiencies, rendering the artist all but incidental to the overall creation. Such was certainly the case in the age of disco, yet Donna Summer stood out specifically because, in addition to delivering some of the ‘70s’ most exquisitely sophisticated and sensual songs, she could sing the hell out of them.

On her first album of new material in seventeen years, Crayons, Summer is invigorated and sensational, demonstrating to all aspiring divas and dynamos that nothing takes the place of genuine talent.

In ways that embrace her classic sound while exploring diverse and contemporary sonic textures, Summer thrives here with songs simmering with discothèque thrust and body-rocking bravado. Throbbing, swirling beats surge through irresistible joints like “Fame (The Game)” and “Mr. Music” while tracks like “Science Of Love” and “Stamp Your Feet” boast more straightforward (though no less danceable) rhythms. Elements of world music accentuate songs such as the Latin-tinged “Drivin’ Down Brazil” and the reggae-fortified title track, the latter a sizzling collaboration with Ziggy Marley.

Ever the eminent and seasoned songstress, Summer employs her voice with just the right amount of sensuality and might. When a song calls for subtlety, as on the joyful love ballad, “Sand On My Feet,” she sings in delicate, almost girlish tones. When the mood and tempo intensify, as on the seven-minute jam, “I’m A Fire,” she throws down like nobody’s business.

Donna Summer’s most obvious allusion to her ‘70s zenith comes on “The Queen Is Back,” in which she name checks “On The Radio” and “Love To Love You Baby” almost to suggest that she can do now what she did back when…and then some. In listening to Crayons, it’s clear that the lady does indeed live up to her legend and still can sing, with consummate and authentic skill, until the last dance.