It was an equally brave and honorable gesture Paul Rodgers made with The Royal Sessions. Offering homage to those artists, like Albert King, Sam, Dave and Otis Redding, that strongly influenced him to develop a career that included singing for “Free,” forming “Bad Company” and fronting the remaining members of “Queen,” one of the most distinctive singers of our time not only chooses material that inspires him, but makes the most of a courageous decision to record at Royal Studios in Memphis with musicians who populated Hi Records made by Al Green and similar artists.
Produced by Rodgers’ creative partner Perry A. Margouleff, The Royal Sessions sounded utterly contemporary even as it was recorded with analog equipment. Polished to a fine-shine in which full arrangements including rich percussion and crisp keyboards surround a sure rhythm section, the grit balances the sheen on “I Thank You,” and even more so on “Down Don’t Bother Me,” where the addition of female backup singers and horns meshed with the emotive tones of Rodger’s still fluid voice.
The end result of this collaboration evoked the feelings at the heart of the songs, rather than mere nostalgia for a time and place. On “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” it’s hard not to wish the track lasted longer so to hear the band work out a bit more on its own after Rodgers finished singing. Nevertheless, on that track and “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” like the rest of the ten here, the British rocker captured attention fully and completely when he sang.
That’s no small accomplishment, given the concept of the album. Even on Otis Redding’s, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” there’s not one iota of self-consciousness in the vocals. On the contrary, the moments Paul Rodgers hits and holds notes are as brief yet heartrending as when he cuts himself short. Hearing him sing “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” there’s a definite sense the man is rediscovering those feelings that initially moved him so deeply back in the days of his youth; consequently, this performance is a tribute to the spontaneity of moment and, by extension, the realization of his ambitions for this project.
The familiarity of the tunes is a major attraction of The Royal Sessions, so much that the choice of blues icon Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” should be as much of an epiphany as Bacharach/David’s “Walk on By.” Rodgers does justice to himself and collaborators on this record by getting in touch with the heart of this material as well as the musicianship that brings to life the subtleties inside it. It’s no wonder that, in his pithy liner notes, Rodgers references a restoration of his faith in music, arising directly from the experience of making this record. Those who hear it are very likely be transformed too.