Joe Smooth & Irene Michaels – “Hush Money” / “Devil In Disguise”

 Joe Smooth & Irene Michaels – “Hush Money” / “Devil In Disguise”

Joe Smooth & Irene Michaels – “Hush Money” / “Devil In Disguise” – Singles Review

75 years young you say!  I’ve got love for that…artist Irene Michaels has been around for as long as the NBA has been – and that’s ballin’ y’all.  Word on the street is that she’s been an entrepreneur, a Chicago fashion icon, a top model, a best-selling author…all this & more within her lifetime to-date – so why not team up with another legend from Chicago, none other than Joe Smooth from the House Music circuit, and take on yet another career – you only live once right?  I wanna be like Irene when I finally grow up.

Anyhow.  This duo has a couple of solid cuts out so far, served up in a variety of ways for ya.  I’ve been spinning “Hush Money” lately here…a track filled with fun innuendo and a theatrical-esque performance from Irene on the mic.  Joe’s music is flawless…this dude definitely knows how to get his beats movin’ without a doubt, but as you listen to “Hush Money” in its variety of four different mixes on the official single, you’ll appreciate how much can be done with one tune to make it all stand out in unique ways.  The “Hush Money (House Rockin’ Mix)” kicks things off in the right direction, and instantly confirms that these two certainly work well together in collaboration – and they’ll go on to tighten things up a bit more with the “Hush Money (House Rockin’ Radio Mix),” which shaves another minute or so off the song to give them DJs out there something they can spin at the clubs.  Irene does really well in making the most of her moment and commanding the spotlight…I mean, heck – I can only hope I’ll be kicking as much ass as she is at 75 – Michaels is an inspiration without question.  As the story goes, apparently “Hush Money” is written by a Canadian Country trio of all things…a band known as The Heels, who basically live right in my backyard as far as I’ve learned…they’re based out of North Vancouver here in BC where we’re based out of ourselves.  And that’s freakin’ cool!  Honestly, that was probably the right move on their part to shop this song around…I’m not entirely sure that “Hush Money” in any of its forms would have really made for a great Country song, but it certainly seems to work within the realm of this Electro/Pop combination that Irene and Joe have goin’ on together.  I really liked that you can get right to the roots of the music in the instrumental version, “Hush Money (House Rockin’ Dub Mix)” – and it was great to have Irene resurface for the “Hush Money (Michael Levine Mix)” at the end of this four song set.  It’s all got great energy to it…Irene is clearly a natural born entertainer – if she really hasn’t had any other experience on the mic beforehand, you’d never know.  At 75, she very well might have somewhere along the way in her many adventures, but since it isn’t listed in the credits I’ve been reading, we’ve gotta assume that this is where she really started her journey as a musical artist.  For a debut in that sense, you’ve gotta seriously admire how quickly she’s taken to her new venture – Irene sings with the kind of confidence you’d only find in a veteran that understands there’s nothing to lose by giving every moment everything you’ve got, and she holds nothing back as she sings – and I completely respect that, 100%.  In fact, no matter which version I was listening to, I felt like the only thing I ever really questioned was the use of the autotune…I’m just not entirely convinced she actually needed it, you know what I mean?  99% of the singers you listen to have that on in some way, shape, or form anyhow…it’s not like it’s a new thing to making music in production/studio techniques & all – but if I’m being fully honest with ya like I always am in these reviews I write…I was never all that sure that Irene’s voice needed any extra help from effects or anything else – she’s got genuine, natural star power – and that’s rare to the point where it should be revered & celebrated.  So don’t get me wrong – I didn’t mind that we could hear the occasional enhanced moment in tracks like the first two cuts on the extended “Hush Money” single, or at the end in the “Hush Money (Michael Levine Mix)” – I’m just saying that, even at the incredible age of seventy-five, Irene doesn’t really need to rely on any gimmicks to make an impression on us.  A song like “Hush Money” in all forms can definitely get away with the extra glossy effects & whatnot, but it’s not absolutely necessary – that’s all I’m saying.  To me, it was a complete pleasure to listen to Irene’s natural energy and how much she’s clearly got the passion & interest that it takes to make music.  We can dance around the elephant in the room all we want to, but the reality is that seventy-five isn’t the early stages of a career…so to hear her thriving in her performance of “Hush Money” and right into the moment with such commitment to every second was really extraordinary.  All-in-all, “Hush Money” is a true jolt of electro-based FUN, and it’s a credit to both Joe and Irene that what we hear becomes that way.  Smooth sets the stage professionally, Irene lights it up perfectly, and voila, here we are, with what’s undoubtedly an authentically single-worthy cut that’ll please one & all.

Do I think they’ve probably got a better track with “Devil In Disguise?”  Honestly, it’s hard to say.  I think on a personal level, it appeals to ME more than “Hush Money” did – but as far as the ‘hit’ potential is concerned…I could probably see things from both sides of the coin.  Some people will find “Devil In Disguise” and its melodically-driven sound to be every bit as single-worthy as “Hush Money” was, and some will feel like this second single didn’t quite have that same compelling level of hooks that this duo’s first offering had.  Like, I listen to the “Devil In Disguise (House Moody Radio Mix)” and I can get where they’re coming from…it’s got a real sweetness to it that works for me…I like sincerity in the tunes I’m putting on my playlist, and this first version has that.  The “Devil In Disguise” EP has seven variations on it in total however – and I think one of the most pleasant surprises you’ll find is that not every track you’ll hear is gonna be in the style you’d normally listen to, yet the results can quite often be much more awesome than you’d expect.  The “Devil In Disguise (House Rockin Radio Mix)” was like that for me – it’s more pepped up, with more emphasis on the fun aspects of the song, and to be real with ya, I wasn’t expecting to like it more than the first version I heard, but I actually think that I did.  That being said, I felt like it was the “Devil In Disguise (Michael Levine Mix)” that probably got this track the most right it could be in the first three versions of this seven-song set…in my opinion, that’s pretty much perfection.  It’s not a long track at just around the 2:30 mark, but everything from the vocals to the music is spot-on for the tone, emotion, sentiment, performance, beat…you name it, everything is right where it should be.  So credit where credit is due, Michael Levine has brought a lot to these tunes by Joe Smooth and Irene Michaels, and even more so to the “Devil In Disguise” out of the two – I think this was my favorite version personally…and I’m not sure it was even really all that close; that’s how right I think Levine got it.

The “Devil In Disguise (DJ Thadx Remix)” comes out with a bit of added uniqueness to it, which I felt was really crucial in creating an experience that’s seven variations of one song, and as a result, really injects a bit of new blood into the veins of this record overall.  In many ways, it’s the most fresh in terms of style and similarities to what’s happening out there in the scene right here & now…and even though I might be much more partial to the Michael Levine mix, I’d probably be looking at the “Devil In Disguise (DJ Thadx Remix)” as the potential single of the set to really draw the people in to listen.  As you carry on into the final three tracks, you get the longer takes on the majority of the lineup, with the full versions of the “Devil In Disguise (House Moody Mix),” “(House Rockin Mix),” and “DJ Thadx Extended Remix” all making a reappearance…which in terms of my own assessment, was a bit strange to find the Michael Levine Mix being the only version that didn’t appear twice.  What can I say y’all – when you get things right the first time, why even bother with a second, right?  Look…I’ll be as real with ya as I always have been – I think there’s a massive amount of risk to the shelf-life of a song any time we’re in a situation where it appears more than once on any record, and that’s pretty much regardless of how much things change within each iteration of it.  Unless it’s practically unrecognizable from track to track, you risk the chance of burning out listeners on the main hooks that make it recognizable at a ratio of however many versions you choose to add in:1.  So in the case of “Hush Money” it’d be 4:1, or in the case of “Devil In Disguise, it’d be 7:1 – and that’s a significant amount of risk y’all.  I’ve been there, don’t get me wrong – I used to buy all kinds of CD singles back in the day, and I get it – if you like a song, chances are, you’ll like hearing MORE of that song…and that’ll hold up for a while, until that burnout eventually kicks in.  So it’s hard to say that I can directly advocate on behalf of the method at this point in my career of listening to tunes…I always acknowledge the risk factor, purely because there IS one, and it’s hard to imagine the masses out there listening to their music in this kind of format.  That being said, for the hardcores out there…the real fans of Joe Smooth, of Irene Michaels, of the songs themselves – there’s no doubt they’ll really dig having more of what they love to choose from, that’s essentially how it goes.  Even I get to the “Devil In Disguise (DJ Thadx Extended Remix) at the end of the Devil In Disguise EP and I practically think I’m nuts for pointing ANY of this stuff out, because how on earth could anyone ever get enough of this?

Both cuts have merit…I’m still gonna advocate on behalf of “Devil In Disguise” – I felt like there’s a bit more uniqueness to be found there, a bit more sincerity in the melody overall, and hooks that seemed like they warranted several re-spins.  “Hush Money” is a solid cut too, don’t get me wrong – like I told ya, I’d readily assume that most people out there will probably think that’s actually the more single-worthy cut of the two at the end of the day, and if that’s how ya feel, you’ll hear no objections from me.  The real bottom line is that no matter which cut you choose, they both have something significant to offer your ears, and there’s a very good chance you’ll come out enjoying both, even though it’s likely that you’ll find you dig each for entirely different reasons.  Don’t underestimate the power of one version done right though…I still think that the track I might like best overall is probably the “Devil In Disguise (Michael Levine Mix)” – but the reality is, we’re all spoiled for choice, and our differences in opinion are what make the world go around.  The last thing we ever want to feel is indifferent – and I don’t think there’s any risk of that here whatsoever – Irene and Joe make highly entertaining music.

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