Smokey Robinson – 1973 – Smokey

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Smokey is a tentative step forward, carrying clear remnants of Smokey Robinson’s latter-day music with the Miracles, which shouldn’t come as a great surprise considering that it’s anchored by “Sweet Harmony”, a tune he wrote about and for the Miracles but was persuaded by Motown A&R’s Suzanne de Passe to keep for himself. From there, Robinson built a full LP, using Willie Hutch as his co-producer and writing a clutch of songs with Marvin Tarplin, his co-author on several Miracles hits.

Certainly, the rich, gorgeous harmonies of “Sweet Harmony” consciously evoke the Miracles but the group is heard elsewhere too, in the bright bounce of “Wanna Know My Mind” and in its covers of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and a medley of “Never My Love/Never Can Say Goodbye”, both bringing to mind Motown’s habit of recycling contemporary hits.

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These echoes of the past are comforting, particularly because they’re surrounded by modernity, thanks in part to Hutch’s lush, layered production but also Smokey’s willingness to embrace the shifting times, naturally favoring smooth soul to gritty funk, letting it escalate to an almost cinematic scale and, more importantly, not shying away from subjects he’d never tackle during the ‘60s whether it’s his family or the saga of a teenage runaway.

It’s not a bold break into maturity on the level of What’s Going On or Music of My Mind but rather a transitional album, and a fascinating one at that, suggesting the path he would take going forward.