Nnenna Freelon was in the middle of recording Time Traveler, her first new album in over a decade, when her husband of 40 years died from Lou Gehrig's disease in 2019 and it ended up becoming a tribute both to her partner and the R&B and pop of the '60s and '70s. The album gets off to an R&B-drenched start with
the Burt Bacharach-Hal David favorite "I Say a Little Prayer". Freelon's "Marvin Medley" is billed as a tribute to soul icon Marvin Gaye but could just as easily be called "Marvin & Tammi Medley", as it consists of three songs that Gaye and Philadelphia-born singer Tammi Terrell famously performed as duets: "If This World Were Mine", "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".
Freelon remembers two facets of '70s-era Philadelphia with a pair of The Stylistics' major hits, "Betcha By Golly Wow" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New", putting a bossa nova-flavored spin on the latter soul ballad, and singer/songwriter Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle", given a funky, gospel-ish makeover. Freelon also celebrates Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook on Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne's "Time After Time" and Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine", yet still incorporating elements of soul.
The musicians backing Freelon—Miki Hayama, Chuckey Robinson, Brandon McCune, Keith Ganz, Noah Jackson, Gerald Veasley, Lance Scott, E.J. Strickland, Adonis Rose, Jon Curry, Beverly Botsford, Trineice Robinson-Martin, Kirk Whalum and Shana Tucker—vary from track to track, with some of the selections using electric bass and electric keyboards liberally while others emphasize acoustic instruments. The constant throughout the album is Freelon's affinity for both vocal jazz and classic soul. Time Traveler doesn't pretend to be the work of a purist and for listeners who appreciate Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan as much as they do Carmen McRae
and Sarah Vaughan, there is much to enjoy on this nostalgic effort.