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Some pretty convincing evidence that Chaka is no one trick pony.

  • Dec 17, 2008
When Chaka Khan emerged on the national music scene in the early 1970's as leader of the funk group Rufus I was not particularly impressed.  Funk was never one of my favorite genres anyway so I paid little attention to the young lead singer from the south side of Chicago.  Later in that decade Chaka would leave Rufus to pursue a solo career.  Her debut single "I'm Every Woman" made some noise nationally and Chaka seemed to be on her way.  Over the next few years Chaka would release a few albums with varying degrees of success.  Finally in 1984 Chaka released her breakthrough LP "I Feel for You".  The title track won a Grammy and would become one of the biggest singles of 1984.  To be honest with you I have not heard a whole lot from Chaka in the two decades since.  So when I happened upon the Chaka's 2004 release "Classikhan" I was curious. How would she handle this kind of material?  A great many artists have attempted to make this transition and in my estimation only a handful have succeeded.  It would be an interesting disc to listen to.

For me "Classikhan" has more ups than downs.  The album was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra so the music is top drawer.  The disc features an eclectic mix of tunes that Chaka was anxious to record.  I must say Chaka did a terrific job on the discs opening track "Hey Big Spender" from the Broadway musical "Sweet Charity".  I was also impressed with her interpretation of a couple of old favorites namely "Crazy" the Willie Nelson tune original made famous by the legendary Patsy Cline and of all things "To Sir With Love".  I have always loved Lulu's original version but in my estimation Chaka's is even better.  The highlight of the disc would have to be Chaka's take on two James Bond movie themes "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Goldfinger" Shirley Bassey's originals were certainly a very tough act to follow but Chaka pulled it off and made these songs her own.  I also enjoyed the disc's final track "I Believe" a lovely ballad that Chaka co-wrote with Ira Schickman. There were however a couple of tunes I did not care for at all.  I did not like the arrangement of Sammy Kahn's "Teach Me Tonight" at all.  I much prefer the DeCastro Sisters 1955 version or even Al Jarreau's 1981 take on this tune.  I was also none too pleased with Chaka's rendition of the Harold Arlen classic "Stormy Weather".  Too much screaming for my taste but to each his own.
Overall, I found "Classikhan" to be a most pleasant surprise.  Chaka definitely has a future doing this kind of material.  She exhibits far more talent that I ever gave her credit for.  "Classikhan" comes with a great 20 page booklet that includes all the lyrics for each song as well as some great background material on Chakas long career.     Recommended.

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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this song


Chaka Khan is backed by a nicely understated jazz combo and the subtly seductive strings of the London Symphony Orchestra on this finely tuned set of classic jazz standards and pop tunes. Though Khan is not best known for her laid-back approach to the vocal arts, here she displays both taste and restraint. The track list runs the gamut of styles, from Willie Nelson's country classic "Crazy," here given a Ray Charles-style makeover, to the macabre "Is That All There Is," best known in its Peggy Lee interpretation. However, Khan shows her true mettle on the twin James Bond themes of "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Goldfinger," giving the British belter Shirley Bassey a run for her money with incendiary versions of both songs. Elsewhere, Khan's jazzy rendition of the Lulu hit "To Sir with Love" demonstrates both her elastic vocal prowess and her continuing ability to hit some stratospheric high notes. Classy, romantic, and lushly orchestrated, CLASSIKHAN reveals Chaka Khan's mature vocal talents at a peak.

Track Listings

1. Hey Big Spender 2. Hazel's Hips 3. Best Is Yet to Come 4. Crazy 5. I'm in the Mood for Love 6. Is That All There Is? 7. Stormy Weather 8. 'Round Midnight 9. Teach Me Tonight 10. To Sir With Love 11. Diamonds Are Forever 12. Goldfinger 13. I Believe
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Artist: Chaka Khan
Label: EMI
Genre: Pop Vocals
Release Date: October 5, 2004

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