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Dionne Warwick, Reduced To An Essence

The new tribute album Dionne Dionne is a collaboration between singer Dionne Farris (known for her work with Arrested Development) and guitarist Charlie Hunter. (Courtesy of the artist)

In title and concept, the new tribute album Dionne Dionne is a great gimmick. But if you've followed the career of Dionne Farris, having her record an entire album of Dionne Warwick covers isn't an obvious move, names aside. It's an idea that took root some 20 years ago: Farris met guitarist Charlie Hunter while the two were on tour as members of hip-hop groups, she with Arrested Development and he with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

The musicians' decision to record as a duo — Farris singing, Hunter playing his custom seven-string guitar — pays off handsomely. If you're accustomed to hearing Warwick's songs played with lush orchestration behind them, to hear everything stripped down to bare wisps of melodies and rhythms reveals nuances and highlights not always obvious in the originals. Another pair might have been tempted to fill in all that open space with endless runs or virtuoso solos, but Hunter and Farris keep things smartly sparse and seductively intimate.

Not surprisingly, most of the songs are from Warwick's popular '60s catalog of Burt Bacharach and Hal David tunes, but the album also dips into her 1970s soul records, when she worked with such R&B songwriters as Isaac Hayes and the power trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Farris and Hunter tackle the latter's 1973 song "You're Gonna Need Me" with a subtle, funky touch serving as a reminder that both guitarist and singer began their careers in hip-hop.

If I have any complaint about the album, it's that nine tracks feels too short, least of all for an artist whose output was as prolific as Warwick's. Maybe there will be a second volume down the road, or maybe the duo can work on a tribute album to country star Charley Pride next and call it Charley Charlie. All jokes aside, part of what makes Dionne Dionne so enjoyable is how Farris and Hunter take this potential pun and turn it into something richer — but still fun.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Singer Dionne Farris and guitarist Charlie Hunter met some 20 years ago, when they were touring with different music groups. They talked then about recording one day and now they have. It is a tribute album to Dionne Warwick so the collaboration is appropriately titled "Dionne Dionne."

Oliver Wang has this review.

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: "Dionne Dionne" is a great gimmick of a title, but if you've followed Dionne Farris's career since she first broke out with Arrested Development in early 1990s, having her cover Dionne Warwick wasn't an obvious move, namesakes aside. Yet here she is, backed by just Charlie Hunter on his custom seven-string guitar, tinkering with some of Warwick's best-known hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK ON BY")

DIONNE FARRIS AND CHARLIE HUNTER: (Singing) If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet, walk on by, walk on by. Make believe that you don't see the tears. Just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see you I break down and cry.

WANG: The two musicians' decision to record as a duo pays off handsomely. If you're accustomed to hearing Warwick's songs played with lush orchestration behind them, to hear everything distilled to the bare wisps of melody and rhythm reveals nuances and highlights not always obvious in the originals. Another pair might've been tempted to fill in all that open space with endless runs or virtuoso solos, but Hunter and Farris keep things smartly sparse and seductively intimate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK THE WAY YOU TALK")

FARRIS AND HUNTER: (Singing) Just because you said things have got to change, they won't go away. Nothing goes away, not unless you do.

WANG: Not surprisingly, most of the songs are from Warwick's more popular '60s catalog of Burt Bacharach and Hal David tunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK THE WAY YOU TALK")

FARRIS AND HUNTER: (Singing) So walk the way you talk and talk the way you walk.

WANG: "Dionne Dionne" also dips into Warwick's 1970s soul albums, when she worked with such R&B songwriters as Isaac Hayes and the power trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Farris and Hunter tackle the latter's 1973 song "You're Gonna Need Me" and with their subtle, funky touches, you're reminded that both guitarist and singer began their careers in hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE GONNA NEED ME")

FARRIS AND HUNTER: (Singing) You better stop and think what you're doing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stop and think about what you're doing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And give a little back what you've been taking. You better start being for real stop and stop your faking. You better prepare yourself for that rainy day. You better throw a little tenderness and affection my way.

WANG: If I have any complaint about the album, it's that nine tracks feels too short, especially considering Warwick's prolific output. Maybe there'll be a volume two down the road, or, maybe they'll do a tribute album to country star Charley Pride and call it "Charley Charlie."

All jokes aside, part of what makes "Dionne Dionne" so enjoyable is the way Dionne Farris and Charlie Hunter take this potential pun and turn it into something more rich and still fun.

MARTIN: Our reviewer Oliver Wang is an associate professor sociology at Cal State Long Beach and he writes the audio blog "Soul-Sides."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALFIE")

FARRIS AND HUNTER: (Singing) For the moments that we live. What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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