It’s telling that two of Vanessa Williams’s last three studio albums were Christmas-themed. Recording pop music has always seemed like just another thing for the multi-hyphenate to add to her list of accomplishments, and it’s been almost eight years since her last album of original material. That’s not to say Williams isn’t passionate about music—her latest release, a collection of ‘70s love songs titled Everlasting Love, is a true labor of love, but it won’t do much to bolster her canon of originals as an artist (go ahead, try to name one besides “Save The Best For Last”). The former beauty queen is, as the late Alec Guinness might have said, a true interpreter of others’ words, a soul which wishes to reveal itself to the world, undoubtedly as content singing other people’s songs—like many of the soul greats she covers on the new album—as she is acting on stage or in film.
It’s this versatility that makes it so easy to accept Williams as both dance-pop siren and standards vocalist. Williams has a good voice (at best it caresses, at worst it’s unobtrusive), but it requires great songwriting and even greater production. Which is exactly what Williams got on 1991’s The Comfort Zone, the album that spawned her sole chart-topper (“Save The Best For Last”), and even more so on its comparatively dressed-down follow-up The Sweetest Days, a near flawless mix of smooth jazz and adult contemporary with hints of hip-hop and blues. With Everlasting Love, though, Williams got the songs (it’s an album of classic covers after all), but the production veers even farther toward the middle of the road than any of her previous recordings.
Faithful to its time period, the song selections err on the bland side (Melissa Manchester’s “Midnight Blue,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune “One Less Bell To Answer,” and the schmaltzy “With You I’m Born Again,” a duet with George Benson). Sadly, the title track is a cover of the earthy Rufus & Chaka Khan soul song and not the ‘70s disco classic, which would have given the album some much needed oomph (instead, that distinction goes to a funked-up house version of the Isley Brothers’ “Harvest For The World”). Williams is no Chaka but “Everlasting Love” is still a nice slice of (vanilla) funk. And not all of the songs on the album are “reinterpretations,” but most of the arrangements have been subtly changed by producer/composer Rob Mathes and adequately display Williams’s vocal range—particularly on the oft-covered “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (one of seven tracks featuring the London Symphony Orchestra) and the opening track “Never Can Say Goodbye.”