England's Jay Kay, who performs as Jamiroquai, would never go so far as to title an album "Songs in the Key of Wonder," but Stevie's influence remains dominant on "Synkronized" (Work/Epic). Jamiroquai's 1997's chart-topping single and video, "Virtual Insanity," let Americans in on Kay's longtime obsession with Wonder and the classic Motown sound, with occasional diversions into the sophistication of Philadelphia International.
The best songs on "Synkronized" are those that hew most closely to those influences. For instance, Wonder himself would hardly be embarrassed at the delirious dance floor anthems "Canned Heat" ("got canned heat in my feet tonight, baby . . . nothing left for me to do, just dance") and the propulsive "Where Do We Go From Here," along with "Butterfly," an Earth, Wind & Fire-style workout built on old-fashioned fatback bass.
There are other classic influences apparent here and there: Isaac Hayes on the sinewy "Soul Education," Van McCoy (with a Latin-tinged hustle) on "Planet Home," which transforms a silly notion ("There no place like Planet Home/ I want to go there") into a pro-Earth pitch along the lines of "I Love New York."
Kay is less successful with love songs like "Falling" and "King for a Day," or mostly instrumental tracks like "Destitute Illusion" and "Supersonic," which never get much beyond the vamping stage. And he does move a little beyond the Wonder-style Motown sound with the murky funk of "Black Capricorn Day." It slips into the psychedelic soul-funk stylings of Norman Whitfield when he reenergized the Temptations with synthesizers, wah-wah guitars, horns, strings and roiling rhythms of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." This may not be the mother ship, but it's no orphan, either. Jamiroquai performs July 15 at the 9:30 club.
To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and enter 8151.
CAPTION: Motown and funk energize "Synkronized," Jamiroquai's latest album.