CD Review of I Know That Name by Paul Carrack
Paul Carrack: I Know That Name
Recommended if you like
Mike & the Mechanics,
Michael McDonald,
Daryl Hall and John Oates
Label
429 Records
Paul Carrack:
I Know That Name

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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H
e’s never really been famous in his own right - not even during the ‘80s, when he was scoring solo hits while being mistaken for Phil Collins - but if you’ve got any kind of record collection, odds are Paul Carrack pops up on it at least once, given his longstanding tenure as an ace-in-the-hole keyboard player and vocalist for a diverse list of artists that includes B.B. King, Roger Waters, the Pretenders, Eric Clapton, Roxy Music, the Smiths, Elton John…well, you get the idea. You’ve probably also heard his voice, thanks to a string of vocal cameos for Squeeze (that’s him on “Tempted”) and Mike & the Mechanics (“Silent Running,” “The Living Years”), as well as his early gig fronting Ace, the long-forgotten ‘70s rock band whose one hit, “How Long,” has been in heavy rotation for nearly 35 years.

So yeah, the title of Carrack’s latest album might be a bit of a joke, but even if you don’t know his name, you almost certainly know his voice. What you may not know is that Carrack’s solo career, which hasn’t produced a Top 40 hit in the States since 1989, has remained a going concern despite his low profile - I Know That Name is his 12th solo release, and, more impressively, his eighth since leaving the major label fold after recording Groove Approved for Chrysalis two decades ago.

These days, it isn’t at all uncommon for artists to launch second careers as the presidents of their own labels, but when Carrack started bankrolling his own sessions in the mid ‘90s, he was one of the first to take the plunge. In retrospect, this wasn’t all that surprising - though he had his most lucrative moments as a singer of corporate rock ballads like “The Living Years” and his solo hit “Don’t Shed a Tear,” Carrack was always a soul-influenced pub rocker at heart; the kind of old-school artist who never needed a big budget or a flashy video to get his point across. Unfortunately, even though those ballads never gave an accurate representation of Carrack’s artistic breadth, they are what he’s best known for - and as a likely result, his solo albums have mostly been stolid, mid-tempo adult contemporary affairs, sprinkled with new recordings of the hits he’s written for other artists. I Know That Name, for better or worse, doesn’t deviate from this formula.

Like much of his recent material, Name finds Carrack performing most of the instrumental tracks himself, which has the unfortunate effect of sapping the songs of any live energy they might have had if they’d been recorded by an actual band. It’s a real shame, because Carrack’s voice, while never anything but flawless, is always so smooth that it makes even his up-tempo songs sound like easy listening numbers, and his albums would really benefit from some extra heat and the occasional imperfection. Though I Know That Name contains some of Carrack’s stronger recent material, it’s hamstrung by its politeness; it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if he’d hired a young-and-hungry R&B combo for tracks like “It Ain’t Easy (To Love Somebody),” a song Al Green would kill for, or “Love Is Thicker Than Water,” which wastes a guest appearance from Sam Moore.

The whole thing is just too…silky, and though the lack of grit benefits tracks like the Ray Conniff-sounding “Am I in That Dream?” and Carrack’s Timothy B. Schmit and Don Henley-assisted re-recording of “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore,” the song he wrote for the last Eagles record, it keeps the album from being anything other than pleasant. It’s the kind of record that’s perfectly summed up by its opening track, a perfectly fine but utterly unnecessary cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”; although some of Carrack’s song choices are questionable (particularly his inexplicable reggae reworking of 1996’s “Eyes of Blue,” which makes Robert Palmer sound like Peter Tosh), nothing here is truly terrible, because in the end, Carrack’s too talented to turn out a bad product - but he’s also capable of delivering much more than another 45 minutes of music that’s much too polished to be interesting.

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