As the world’s deals with the current pandemic, some singers are still readily releasing music. No stranger to cover albums, Dru Hill & Playa member Smoke E. Digglera drifts away from R & B to show off his vocal chops on his new album, A Juke Joint. Taking on jazz standards is a difficult undertaking for any singer. When Smoke announced the free project earlier this week, I initially thought he would modernize the songs or give them a hip hop feel.
To my surprise, Smoke generally keeps the same vibe of the original versions while singing the songs in a modern jazz style. The first song is his Smoke’s take on Robert Alda’s Luck Be a Lady. Music purists know the song from the musical Guys and Dolls. Smoke sings his version with smooth tenor with sprinkles of a rich baritone. I feel that this version would feel right at home on an episode of Godfather of Harlem.
Smoke’s version of Nat King Coles ‘Tis Autumn was also a surprise. Avoiding the pitfalls that some cover singers make when invoking Cole, Smoke uses his vocal to guide through the song with a natural flair. Ray Eberle’s “Imagination” and Kaye Ballard’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (later popularized by Frank Sinatra) were also enjoyable.
The standout track, though for me on this project, would have to be Smoke’s take on George Michel’s “Kissing a Fool.” Keeping the song’s original minimal instrumentation intact, gives the listener a chance to see how strong of a vocalist Smoke is.
I’ve been a fan of Smoke’s since his group Playa dropped their still classic solo album, Cheers 2 U in 1998. Throughout a fourteen year solo career that spans eight solo albums Smoke E. Digglera continues to provide fans with real R&B. As fans officially await his debut album with Dru Hill, a cover album of jazz standard will do just fine. The EP is available for free download at Smoke’s official site store.smokedigglera.com.
Final Grade B+