After his Reprise debut, 1970's swamp-funk infused The Rill Thing, failed to garner commercial attention, Little Richard hooked up with mainstream producer H.B. Barnum and crafted an updated version of his 1950's R&B-tinged rock `n' roll sound. This is a more flamboyant and self-celebrating affair than its predecessor, from the album's title track to the lengthy, self-aggrandizing introduction he gives himself on the cover of Hoyt Axton's "Joy to the World." Those who remember Richard's television appearances in the 1970s ("Shut up!") will recognize the character here.
As great as were the brassy, bass-heavy arrangements of The Rill Thing, Barnum's production update doesn't work. Richard's belting vocals sound out-of-time against the flaccid, near-disco arrangements of "Joy to the World" and "Brown Sugar." Better are the funky, hyperventilating reinterpretation of "Dancing in the Street" and the soul shout of "Midnight Special," though here again the early `70s backing vocals are dated. Richard's original "In the Name" is sung in a compelling croon, and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" works well in its Stax-styled arrangement.
The album's closing cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" fits, but it reveals more about Richard's impact on John Fogerty than it provides an opportunity to create something new. Richard sounds engaged, but his producer wasn't able to craft a compelling showcase for his vocals, nor help him select material that offered the best vehicles for interpretation. After the electric jolt forward of The Rill Thing, this album is disappointing for its lack of new vision. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]