The fact that song stylist Nnenna Freelon's 10-year recording career is moving into high gear seems indisputable. With five Grammy Award nominations to her credit and an increasingly hectic touring sc

The fact that song stylist Nnenna Freelon's 10-year recording career is moving into high gear seems indisputable. With five Grammy Award nominations to her credit (including two for her self-produced 2000 Concord release, "Soulcall"), an appearance in the 2001 Mel Gibson film "What Women Want," and an increasingly hectic touring schedule, the North Carolina-based singer is preparing for the June 11 release of her seventh album, "Tales of Wonder," via Concord.

Consisting entirely of songs from the catalog of Stevie Wonder, the 12-track set has the makings of a mainstream breakthrough for Freelon. "I grew up with Stevie's music," she explains. "I was lucky because my parents exposed me to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, and other jazz greats. At the same time, the music of Motown -- Earth, Wind & Fire; the Stylistics; Tower of Power -- that's what I claimed, that's also what I listened to. Stevie truly had his pulse on our generation, and his music was like the soundtrack for the lives of so many of us."

No stranger to Wonder's music, Freelon has recorded one of the legendary artist's songs on each of her previous albums for Concord, as well as her three early-'90s sets for Columbia. Freelon says choosing from more than 300 Wonder songs was no easy task.

"Once we decided to do this album, I started researching his work about a year ago. I picked songs from each era of his career, and I included some absolute personal favorites-along with a few surprises."

A prime example, the little-known "Black Orchid" (from Wonder's 1979 set "Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants"), is sandwiched between Freelon's thoughtful interpretation of "Tears of a Clown" -- a Wonder-penned 1970 hit for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles -- and Wonder's own smash "My Cherie Amour." The latter song, Freelon says, "was where I began to recognize Stevie's work."

With Freelon's masterful reading of such classics as "Superstition" and "All in Love Is Fair," along with a new musical slant on "Until You Come Back to Me" (a 1974 hit for Aretha Franklin), "Tales of Wonder" has the ingredients for taking Freelon to a new level beyond the jazz arena.





Excerpted from the May 11, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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