“I love you, and that’s all that really matters…”
New Diana Ross Album To Get U.S. Release, blazed a Billboard headline on December 13, 2006, heralding this news: “Diana Ross’ first new studio album in more than seven years, ‘I Love You,’ will arrive Jan. 16 in the United States via Manhattan/EMI. The 15-track set is already available abroad; it will also be sold domestically in a CD/DVD edition featuring behind-the-scenes studio footage and a photo gallery.” Although many fans had already purchased the album as an import in the wake of its international release in the fall of 2006, this was particularly exciting news considering the lengthy wait between studio albums; as noted in the article, Ross hadn’t released a new studio album since 1999’s Every Day Is A New Day on Motown; with the exception of a few collaborations with other artists (the Top 20 Adult Contemporary duet “I’ve Got A Crush On You” with Rod Stewart and “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” a remake of her 1991 #2 UK hit, this time performed with the group Westlife), Diana’s recording career had pretty much ceased to exist in the new millennium.
According to Miss Ross, the idea of a new album came from a need to express herself through music. She told television host Martha Stewart in 2007, “I was actually in one of those moods where I was going through baby pictures and remembering, and I was just saying, ‘I want to do a CD and just be reminded to tell the people while they’re here with us, to tell them that I love them.” Her concept was to record an album of positive, uplifting love songs, and she ended up choosing more than a dozen to cover, ranging from big hits to more obscure tunes. Two in particular bore personal connection to the singer; Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” had been co-written by Diana’s late brother Arthur “T-Boy” Ross, and “To Be Loved” was an early writing effort by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. To help craft the collection, Miss Ross turned back to producer Peter Asher, who’d helmed several tracks on her 1991 effort The Force Behind The Power; Steve Tyrell (who’d produced the 2005 Rod Stewart duet) also came on board to produce several tracks. Diana’s friend Marylata E. Jacob served as co-executive producer with Miss Ross, and her background singer Fred White wrote the album’s title track, it’s only original composition.
Although she’d enjoyed unprecedented success since the 1960s, Diana Ross had struggled to find an audience in the United States following her return to Motown Records in 1988; although she’d had success on the R&B, dance, and Adult Contemporary charts, her standing as a viable pop star had slipped considerably. But there were signs that the American public was ready to welcome back the legendary entertainer, particularly with the success of Blue, a long-shelved jazz album which was finally released in 2006 to universal acclaim and strong sales. Ross was also back in the public consciousness thanks to the release of Dreamgirls, a big-budget release based on the 1981 Broadway music inspired by the story of The Supremes. So even though Ross wasn’t currently signed to a record contract in her home country, Manhattan Records made a deal to distribute the record domestically following its release by EMI in Europe. That deal paid off handsomely; following the January 2007 release of I Love You, a Manhattan/EMI Music Marketing press release trumpeted, “The #32 debut with first-week sales totaling 21,222 marks Ms. Ross’ highest chart debut and strongest sales week in the SoundScan era.”
Seeing Diana’s name back in the upper reaches of both the Billboard 200 and the R&B Albums chart was immensely satisfying to fans; the showings were her best since 1984’s Swept Away in 1984. Although reviews were mixed for Diana’s latest effort, critics were mainly enthusiastic about the quality of the singer’s voice; in a spotlight review, Billboard wrote, “The distinctive voice that fronted many of the Supremes’ memorable hits is still in force, more pleasingly nuanced and seasoned than in the group’s early days.” Most of the criticism was aimed at the song choice and production; admittedly, most of the tunes have been covered dozens of times, and the production here certainly doesn’t break any new ground, with instrumental tracks that often sound generic. But on the very best cuts, Diana Ross offers undeniable proof of her singular talent; there are moments here as good as anything she’d ever done in her nearly 50-year career as a professional singer. When a vocalist as accomplished and sophisticated as Diana Ross lends her supple voice to a standout song like “Always And Forever,” the results are pure magic.
1. Remember: “I was at home listening to a song, ‘Remember’ by Harry Nilsson, while looking through a family photo album. I became inspired to record a new record of love songs with a positive message,” says Diana in a promotional video clip for I Love You; thus, the singer’s album opens with that song. “Remember” was actually titled “Remember (Christmas)” on Nilsson’s 1972 album Son Of Schmilsson, produced by Diana’s friend and future collaborator, Richard Perry; released as a single by Nilsson, the song peaked at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January of 1973. This isn’t the first time Ross had covered Nilsson; she memorably devoted an entire segment of her one-woman Broadway show, An Evening With Diana Ross, to songs from his album The Point! back in 1976. Miss Ross begins the song with a hushed, sensitive delivery; the years that have passed between this and her previous studio album are evident in her deepened, huskier tone. This is not a bad thing at all; the lower end of her range is beautifully smooth, as is evidenced when she sings the words “Remember/Is a place from long ago” at 32 seconds in. This is the voice of a wise, mature woman, which adds to the credibility of the song and makes it far more poignant for listeners, many of whom have aged right along with Diana Ross. At 1:26, as she begins the “Dream/Love is only in a dream” refrain, she gets to push up into the higher end of her range, and the good news is that it hasn’t been weakened by the passing of years; there is still that gorgeous purity of tone that has always marked the best of Diana Ross’s ballad performances, though there’s a subtle smokiness now that adds an interesting shading to her sound. “Remember” is an interesting composition in that it’s not a traditionally structured song; therefore, it’s not as immediately memorable as something like “Lovely Day” or “More Today Than Yesterday.” It is, however, a mood piece, and the bittersweet atmosphere that Miss Ross creates with her voice and producer Peter Asher creates with the instrumental track is very effective and successful.
2. More Today Than Yesterday: “I had remembered ‘More Today Than Yesterday’ from the 60s. It had a great, upbeat vibe and it always made me smile,” says Diana in the album’s promotional video about this song, a #12 hit for Spiral Staircase in 1969. It was recorded and released by a few other artists that year, too, including Barbara McNair and Andy Williams with The Osmond Brothers, and has been covered by dozens of artists since. Produced by Steve Tyrell as a brassy, big-band celebration, Diana’s version stands among the very best renditions of the tune; it’s a fabulous recording, as bouncy and joyful as anything Miss Ross had recorded in years. Tyrell’s production is actually quite similar to that of the Spiral Staircase original, taking Miss Ross right back to her classic pop roots; she clearly has an affinity and a gift for such music, and thus this is a natural fit for her. Her vocal performance is one of the best on the album, if not the very best; her work on the verses is cool and controlled, her voice sliding down to satisfying low notes before erupting into the powerful refrain, during which she literally shouts with joy. In fact, the catchy chorus here allows Miss Ross to display more power than she had on much of her work in the 1990s; she is really belting here and sounds phenomenal doing so, nailing each note with the precision of a surgeon. The song quickly became one of the singer’s favorites to perform live, and she promoted I Love You by singing “More Today Than Yesterday” on television programs including “American Idol,” “Inside The Actors Studio,” and “The Late Show With David Letterman” (the latter a particularly strong and energetic performance); it has also remained in her live act since the release of the album, and it’s always a treat to hear her sing it to appreciative audiences. “More Today Than Yesterday” is so special because it really brings Diana Ross “full circle,” taking her back to the finger-popping light soul that made her a star more than 40 years earlier; she handles the song with the same kind of attention to enunciation and vocal clarity that she would have in the 1960s, but also bring a sense of confidence and wisdom now that she couldn’t have delivered in her youth.
3. I Want You: In the promotional video for I Love You, Miss Ross explains the choice to include this #1 R&B hit from 1976: “Originally sung by Marvin Gaye, it was actually written by brother, T-Boy Ross. Not many people know that. It’s a very special song, so it had to be on this CD.” Not only did Arthur “T-Boy” Ross co-write the song, he also recorded it for his only Motown album, 1979’s Changes, an album that also includes his song “To The Baby,” the title track for his sister’s long unreleased album from the early 1970s. Sadly, T-Boy Ross passed away in 1996, making Diana’s choice to record the song a tribute to her late brother. Produced again by Steve Tyrell, this is a sensual, adult presentation, smartly retaining the disco feel of Marvin Gaye’s original without sounding dated or campy. Tyrell’s production is mainly driven by an electric guitar and soaring background vocals, which perfectly complement Diana’s passionate reading of the lyrics. Here again, there’s a smokiness to Miss Ross’s voice that works well with the theme of composition, and she sounds self-assured and sexy without it ever becoming forced. There’s a lot of “oooh-ing” and “aaaah-ing” by Miss Ross, harkening back to her work with Holland-Dozier-Holland in the 1960s; thankfully, she’s lost none of her innate feel for when flourishes like these are appropriate. Listen to her work beginning around 2:40, as she croons, “Oh, don’t you wanna care?” — there’s a power and an urgency to her vocal that adds some much-needed excitement to an album that’s overwhelmingly loaded with ballads. Her high-note wail at 3:37 is beautifully done, as is the follow-up around 4:02; this willingness to push her voice and go for the note is something she really hadn’t done much of since 1989’s Workin’ Overtime. “I Want You” is superb latter-day Ross, a wonderful tribute not only to her brother, but the abundance of dance classics produced by Motown in the 1970s.
4. I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters): The set’s title song is also its only original tune, penned by Miss Ross’s background singer Fred White. As White explains on his website, “As I was singing this particular melody, I thought, ‘Boy does this sound like Ms. Ross…’ After listening to her over the years – as a fan as well as night after night touring with her since 2000 – the creation of this song was definitely a spiritual thing. The flow of the melody and the dictation of the lyric was a marriage…a love song sent from Heaven. The musicians on the demo session commented, ‘That is a great song. Who do you have in mind to sing it?’ Curious, I asked them who they could hear singing it and they named several artists. When I told them it was for Diana Ross, they said, ‘That’s it!’” Because White had been backing up Diana for several years, he clearly had a keen understanding of her voice, and this song suits her range and abilities perfectly. Perhaps it makes sense that this song strongly resembles in both structure and sound “It’s Hard For Me To Say” from 1987’s Red Hot Rhythm & Blues, a song written by Luther Vandross, another man who’d studied Ross’s voice for years and certainly knew how to make it sound its best. This is a lovely R&B ballad, simple and straightforward in its lyric and message (“I love you/For who you are/And that’s all that really matters”), and because Diana’s gift as a vocalist is selling lyrics with honesty, the song comes off as an extremely sincere message to her longtime fans. The melody allows her to sing comfortably in the “middle range” of her soprano, while also stretching higher during the refrain. The purity of her tone here really is astounding; she’s as pitch-perfect and crystal-clear as she’d been on the songs of Blue, released a year earlier but recorded in the early 1970s! At more than five minutes in length, the song takes its time and shuffles along slowly but deliberately, which gives Miss Ross a nice opportunity to do some ad-libbing toward the end; her work toward the song’s close is beautifully relaxed and intimate, as though the listener is standing in the recording booth with Miss Ross. “I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters)” is a worthy title track, and Ross performed some lovely renditions of it on television and on tour; critics almost universally listed it as the standout track, with Billboard writing that “Ross’ vocal evolution is showcased to full effect” on the song. It’s a shame that Manhattan Records didn’t choose to service it to Adult R&B radio stations; it certainly would have gained some spins.
5. What About Love: Along with the previous track, “What About Love” was named as the album’s standout track by Billboard, which said the singer’s performance is “reminiscent of Ross’ singular turns on early solo his ‘Reach Out And Touch’ and ‘Touch Me In the Morning'” (January 20, 2017). Indeed, this is one of the most beautiful, haunting performances of Diana’s career, and though it contains hints of those previous recordings, it’s a tune that she could have only recorded at this point in her life. The astonishing authenticity with which she interprets the lyrics are doubtless the result of more than sixty years of life experience; every bit of joy and pain she’s been dealt in her life seem to come through in her deeply-felt performance. The song itself is a beautifully written essay on love, penned in part by the brilliant Brenda Russell (who’d delivered the stunning “Let Somebody Know” to Miss Ross on 1995’s Take Me Higher) for the Broadway musical The Color Purple (which was produced by Diana’s friend Oprah Winfrey). The entire production here is handled so delicately that it’s almost impossible to breathe while listening, for fear of missing the abundance of subtle nuances in both the instrumental and vocal performances. The musical track produced by Peter Asher is sensitive and classy, with an almost rustic sound in the piano and cello that give the song an intimate, timeless feel; that said, the star here is the woman delivering the lead vocal. Listen to Diana begin the song, her voice deep and controlled, singing the lyrics, “Is that me who’s floating away?” — there seems to be a well of emotion that the singer is just holding a bay. Later, at 2:19, she sings the line, “Will I see a new world in your eyes?” with such a heartbreaking wistfulness that she almost seems to be defying her listeners not to be swept away by the moment. Never in her storied career has Miss Ross sounded more invested in a set of lyrics; for a singer who is known as a gifted interpreter of other people’s compositions, she certainly takes that gift to a whole new level here. This is a moving masterpiece that should have won Diana that competitive Grammy award that she’d been denied for so long; it’s hard to imagine a more honest vocal performance being released that year.
6. The Look Of Love: During promotional interviews for I Love You, Diana repeatedly mentioned her respect for the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David; she’d recorded many over the years, starting during her stint with the Supremes (including “The Look Of Love,” which went unreleased for decades) all the way through 1994, with “What The World Needs Now Is Love” on A Very Special Season. “The Look Of Love” is one of the duo’s most famous compositions, having first appeared in the 1967 film Casino Royale (with a soundtrack vocal by Dusty Springfield), and subsequently being covered by dozens of popular artists. Miss Ross’s version opens with a lovely Spanish guitar intro — one of the best instrumental moments on the album, credited to Heitor Pereira — before giving way to a shuffling, Latin-inspired track with lovely orchestral strings which ebb and flow in the background. Diana’s vocal is breathy and relaxed; though she sounds less engaged here than she has on the previous five tracks, the coolness works well for the song, giving it a remoteness that actually plays well into the lyrics (which are, after all, about non-verbal love). Though this is one of the most oft-recorded songs Miss Ross chose to include on I Love You, it’s a slickly produced work that doesn’t feel tired or unnecessary, which is in itself an accomplishment. It’s also become another favorite for the singer to perform, and remains part of her concert act as sensuous near-duet with her saxophone player.
7. Take My Breath Away: Diana has said that she listened to hundreds of songs before narrowing down the eventual tracklist for I Love You; one has to wonder what exactly made her choose “Take My Breath Away” amongst the many other candidates. The song was initially recorded by the band Berlin in 1986; released as part of the Top Gun soundtrack, it ended up topping the Billboard Hot 100 and winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song. It’s one of those recordings that is so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to listen to any other version without hearing the echoes of Berlin’s original; the recording is also so of its time, led by those big heavy synthesizers, that any other version of the song ends up sounding dated. Thus, Miss Ross was already at a disadvantage when taking on the Giorgio Moroder-Tom Whitlock composition, and she’s not helped by Peter Asher’s rather lackluster production. The instrumental here is a generic wash of programming, devoid of character or much life; the pace is also so plodding that the recording feels much longer than it actually is. Unfortunately, Diana Ross doesn’t do a whole lot to liven up the proceedings; her performance is fine, but she doesn’t sound particularly inspired and her voice sounds really heavy, similar to some of her morose work on 1999’s Every Day Is A New Day. She’s more emotive during the final minute of the tune, but by this time it’s a little too late; the song sort of crashes to a finish with a shaky final few notes from Diana and a distinctly discordant musical track behind her. The fact that “Take My Breath Away” wasn’t included on the international EMI release of the album suggests perhaps record executives realized how weak the finished production was; overseas, this song was replaced by an energetic version of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” It was a wise decision; that song adds some much-needed pep to the album, while “Take My Breath Away” quite literally sucks the air out of the album.
8. Lovely Day: This terrific cut brings some life and lightness back to I Love You, and Diana’s reason for wanting to record it is quoted in a Manhattan/EMI press release: “This song makes me dance. Everyone wants a lovely day.” The song was written by the great Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough, and released as a single by Withers in late 1977 (the same year that Diana covered another Withers tune, “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh” from her LP Baby It’s Me); “Lovely Day” ended up peaking at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on the R&B Singles chart. The version presented here by producer Peter Asher is cool and modern, a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of the plodding “Take Me Breath Away.” The song is given a smooth jazz/easy listening arrangement, more polished but less soulful than that of the original; the easy listening vibe veers a little close to a Muzak sound at times, but thankfully sidesteps that trap with some great instrumental touches and a nice, low-key performance by Miss Ross. The track opens with an interesting stuttering electronic intro before the accomplished saxophone work of Brandon Fields takes over; Diana’s vocal, meanwhile, opens with a trademark sigh (imagine a “Love Hangover 2007” moment) and continues with a cool efficiency that nicely matches the staccato feel of the track. Diana’s voice is also very prominent on the background vocal arrangement (with the repetition of the song’s title), which is a great touch and reminiscent of her early RCA work, during which she often provided her own backgrounds. This song probably could have been serviced to smooth jazz/Adult Contemporary radio and gotten a few spins; it’s certainly hard not to sing-along with the song when it comes on. And Diana’s ease with this song, along with her superlative version of “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh” from 1977, certainly makes a case that the singer could delve even deeper into the Withers catalog for a future project.
9. Only You: This is a song that, frankly, probably didn’t need another cover version; since being made famous by The Platters in the mid-1950s, it’s been recorded dozens of times, by everyone from Ringo Starr to Brenda Lee. That said, Diana has always shown a great affinity for song of the 1950s, starting with her choice to produce and record “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” as her debut single with RCA Records in 1981 through her covers of songs like “There Goes My Baby” and “Mr. Lee” on her 1987 effort Red Hot Rhythm & Blues. In that respect, “Only You” makes perfect sense as part of this project; this is an album of sweet nostalgia, and in the liner notes, Miss Ross writes, “‘Only You’ reminded me of a time when we’d listen to records, slow dancing with one light glowing from above.” Clearly the intention here is to re-create that feeling, and to that end, it works; Steve Tyrell’s production is warm and cozy, with haunting background vocals and some jazzy keyboard work that keep it from becoming overly laborious, despite a tempo so slow it basically lacks a beat. This isn’t Diana’s most successful vocal on the album, although there are some fine moments; she’s a bit too affected at times, and her final, big “You!” at 3:39 admittedly feels wobbly, but she also demonstrates a lovely smoothness in her low notes and an occasional sultriness the recalls her work from the 1970s. Although “Only You” isn’t likely to many people’s favorite track from I Love You, it does feel like an authentic statement from the singer, a sentimental glimpse back at her exciting pre-stardom days in Detroit.
10. To Be Loved: “‘To Be Loved’ was born on one of the worst nights of my life,” Berry Gordy, Jr. remembered in a November 5, 1994 interview with Billboard. “I had been served that morning with divorce papers, and I went to my sister’s house in tears. The words [to the song] came easy.” Gordy wrote “To Be Loved” before he ever created Motown Records; at the time, he was writing songs for singer Jackie Wilson, who originally recorded and released “To Be Loved” in 1958. The following year, Gordy founded Tamla Records, which then became incorporated as Motown, and within a few years, Gordy’s empire would become the driving force behind popular music, launching the careers of superstars including Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and — of course — Diana Ross. Because Ross and Gordy were linked by both a professional and intensely personal relationship, the singer’s choice to include “To Be Loved” here is especially meaningful; in 1994, Gordy had named his autobiography To Be Loved, in which he’d written candidly about his deep love for Ross, something which surprised even her (Diana, for example, never knew Gordy had written the song “Try It Baby” for her until reading his book decades later). Producer Steve Tyrell handles “To Be Loved” here, and the arrangement is faithful to Wilson’s original version, with a shuffling “sock-hop” beat; unfortunately, Tyrell also leans a bit too far on the Easy Listening spectrum, killing any opportunity for the song to have an authentic, soulful feel. The album’s AllMusic review unfairly points the finger toward Diana, stating, “Ross takes Jackie Wilson’s ‘To Be Loved’ and bleeds the soul from it” — in truth, Miss Ross’s vocal is full of soul and feeling, but the blaring sax is just plain overpowering and makes it difficult for the lead vocal to dominate the piece, as it should. Taken on its own, this really is one of the more impressive vocals on the entire album; Miss Ross is clear and deliberate in her delivery, with some nice vocal runs (especially at :58) adding a little color and variation. The final verse beginning at around 3:00 into the running time is perhaps the best example of Diana’s power here; she builds and builds until her jubilant shout at 3:30 brings the song to its musical climax. Though she would have been served much, much better by a less polished, rougher musical track (a live band accompanying her would have been a nice change), it’s hard to fault Miss Ross here, as she really does serve up a fine performance.
11. I Will: This is one of the real gems of I Love You, a shimmering acoustic ballad that is perfect in its simplicity. The big surprise is that it was written by Paul McCartney and recorded by The Beatles; let’s face it, Diana’s track record with Beatles material is spotty at best. Ross recorded several McCartney-Lennon tunes while a member of The Supremes, and the results were generally pretty weak; take, for instance, the group’s work on 1964’s A Bit Over Liverpool, a rush job of an album which remains perhaps the worst of the entire Supremes discography. Ross hadn’t fared much better with Beatles material during her solo career, but “I Will” is a sparkling exception; produced by Peter Asher, it brings a sense of gentle calm to the album. “I Will” first appeared on the 1968 double-LP The Beatles (known by many as The White Album); its appearance here may have something to do with the fact that Asher was once in charge of A&R at Apple Records, the label founded by the Beatles in ’68. Whatever the case, it’s a brilliant addition; it’s not as immediately recognizable as many of the other songs, and thus doesn’t conjure up comparisons to earlier versions (in the way “Take My Breath Away” does, for example). The arrangement here is lovely; there’s a refreshing sweetness to the sound of the recording that is a pleasure to listen to, and Diana respects that feeling with the simplicity of her vocal. The soulful flourishes and “deep digging” of the previous track are gone; instead, Miss Ross sings with a purposeful crispness, plucking each word softly just as the strings of the guitar are being gently plucked. Though she sounds mature and wise in her tone, there’s a subtle playfulness to her performance that gives it a child-like edge; in that way, it’s vaguely reminiscent of something like “When We Grow Up,” her recording from the 1972 album Free To Be…You And Me. The song itself is very brief — running just under three minutes — but there’s not a wasted moment here; this is just perfection from start to finish, a real treat.
12. This Magic Moment: Diana Ross has often mentioned listening to The Drifters in her pre-stardom days; The Primettes (who would become The Supremes) actually sang the male group’s “There Goes My Baby” in its audition for Motown. “This Magic Moment” was released by The Drifters in 1960, and became a significant pop and R&B hit for the group; the song was a hit again later in the decade for Jay and the Americans. Although Ross clearly loves the nostalgia of a song like “This Magic Moment,” her recording here is one of the weakest on the album, rivaling “Take Me Breath Away” in its lack of inspiration and generic production. While some of the tracks thus far have dipped their toes into the Muzak pool, this one dives in headfirst; Diana Ross sounds as though she’s singing in an elevator, with the vanilla, glossy backing track completely murdering the song. There is a mind-boggling abundance of strange sounds included here, from the reedy wind-instrument opening to the odd robotic voice that underscores Miss Ross on the “Sweeter than wine” sections. The instrumental break, meanwhile, sounds like a cheap computer recreation of an actual recording, and is startling in its lack of sophistication. Producer Peter Asher has shown great taste in many of the album’s previous sections, including “What About Love” and “Lovely Day,” but his attempt to add some personality here falls painfully flat. The best that can be said for Miss Ross, meanwhile, is that she sounds relaxed; unfortunately, that relaxation doesn’t come across as effortless so much as boredom. Being that I Love You has a relatively high track count, it’s a shame someone didn’t decide to leave this one off; its absence would have strengthened the overall project.
13. You Are So Beautiful: Your tolerance for this song will probably depend on your tolerance for other versions of it; “You Are So Beautiful” tends to be a song that people either love or hate, but it’s certainly has never lacked in airplay. Written and first recorded by Billy Preston, singer Joe Cocker covered the song in 1974 and made it a huge hit; it’s since been referenced countless times in movies and television programs, and played at proms and weddings ad nauseam. The good news is that this version is actually very restrained and listenable; the production is mercifully not overdone, and features a well-balanced mix of low-key piano and strings. Diana’s performance, meanwhile, is deep and soulful; she doesn’t do any adorning, and lets the lyrics “breathe” and speak for themselves. Her one embellishment is pushing the song’s final two words an octave higher, and her “to me” is a beautifully done finale. In a way, the feel of “You Are So Beautiful” is analogous to her performance of “Forever Young” on 1984’s Swept Away; on both songs, Miss Ross takes an optimistic lyric and tinges it with sadness in her delivery, lending the song a bittersweet feeling that it otherwise probably wouldn’t have. For my money, this version of “You Are So Beautiful” is the most successful of any recording of it; it’s easy for the lyrics to sound syrupy and almost disingenuous, but there’s an emotional honesty in this rendition that really elevates it.
14. Always And Forever: “‘Always And Forever’ is a classic love song for all generations. I included it because it reaches out and speaks to not only lovers, but also to relationships of all kind,” says Miss Ross in the promotional video clip for I Love You, and the album’s final full song is a lush, stunning version of the 1977 by Heatwave. Diana’s late friend Luther Vandross also famously recorded the song, which gained him a Grammy nomination in 1994; Miss Ross’s vocal here was more than worthy of a Grammy nomination, too. This is as good as her voice sounds on the entire album and, really, as good as she’d sounded in years; in Diana Ross: A Biography, Ross biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli writes that it “probably rates with the best of her ballad performances,” an assessment that feels entirely justified. The arrangement here is highlighted by gorgeous violin and piano work, creating an atmospheric and luxuriant background for Miss Ross. After her hushed, restrained delivery on “You Are So Beautiful,” Diana opens up her voice here, powerfully pushing her upper register at the end of each refrain; listen to her work beginning at 2:36, as she passionately sings the lyrics, “Take time to tell me/You really care/And we’ll share tomorrow together” — this is singing at its highest caliber, a stunning mix of technique and feeling. But beyond the showier moments, Miss Ross’s work on the verses is smooth and controlled, her deeper notes as clean and precise as glass. Again, Mr. Taraborrelli is on mark with his assessment; this really is a quintessential Diana Ross ballad, as perfectly suited to her voice as well-known hits like “Theme From Mahogany” and “Endless Love.” Had it been serviced to Adult R&B and Adult Contemporary radio and given the right kind of attention, “Always And Forever” surely could have equalled the success of Diana’s duet with Rod Stewart in 2005, if not bettered it. For anyone whose appreciation of Diana Ross has dimmed over the years, this is required listening; this song proves Miss Ross is still one of the most gifted vocalists of all time.
15. Remember (Reprise): A brief reprise of the album’s first track closes things out; this is a nice way to bring the project full circle and finish it off gracefully. “We did this because the album, like love, is a journey,” Diana explains in the album’s promotional video clip.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love: This track appeared on international versions of I Love You in place of “Take My Breath Away” — being that it’s really the only true uptempo song other than “More Today Than Yesterday,” it’s strange that executives in the states decided to do without it. Having another energetic song definitely helps break up the album a little bit and give it some variety, even if this one isn’t nearly as succesful as “More Today Than Yesterday.” The issue here is not at all with Miss Ross; her performance is vibrant and fun, and she sounds a lot like she did on several songs from 1987’s Red Hot Rhythm & Blues. The production, unfortunately, is a mess; it opens with a garish marching band sound that never lets up, and the instruments all sound insanely discordant. The one other bright spot here is the quick guitar solo by Queen’s Brian May — Queen, of course, took the song to #1 back in 1980. His involvement is a nice touch, and it’s fun to hear Diana having a good time in the studio, but this really isn’t otherwise a standout track.
Not only did I Love You debut at #32 on the Billboard 200 in the wake of its January 2007 release, it was also the “Hot Shot Debut” on the R&B Albums chart, bowing in at #16; these were easily the highest chart positions for a Ross studio album since 1984’s Swept Away, besting everything she’d released during the 1990s. After the commercial disappointments of such stellar albums as The Force Behind The Power and Take Me Higher, the success of this project seemed not only deserved, but sorely overdue. After so many years of battling negative publicity and unfair criticism of her talents, it seemed the public was finally giving Diana Ross her due; in the wake of the album’s release, Diana was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual BET Music Awards, and she was chosen as one of the honorees at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. A few years later, in 2012, she finally got a Grammy Award, this one for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2016 she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Certainly I Love You isn’t the crowning achievement of the Ross canon; the singer is frequently let down by the production, and some of the song choices feel too obvious. But it’s hard to complain about an album that clearly means so much to the artist behind it; her intention in creating the project was obviously an authentic need to spread some love and inspiration to her fans. Speaking to Susan Whitall of The Detroit News in 2007, Ross said of the album, “I wanted to do songs of celebration of love, weddings, holidays, things that could be played during that time…A lot of this message of love is to the fan base that has stayed with me over the years.” The good news is that even when the songs aren’t terribly inspiring, the singer’s vocal performances are; Miss Ross has clearly taken care of her voice, and if some of its strength is understandably diminished, it’s been replaced by a warmth and wisdom as comforting as a fuzzy blanket on a cold day. That’s the power of Diana Ross; when she says “I love you,” she means it…and we can’t help but feel it.
Final Analysis: 3.5/5 (A Welcome “Love” Letter)
Paul’s Picks: “Always And Forever,” “More Today Than Yesterday,” “I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters)”