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Michael Bolton loves Motown -- and Detroit
Michael Bolton has always been a Motown fan.
Now he's a Detroit booster, too.
Bolton's latest release, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville U.S.A.," not only gave the singer -- who's been making his own hits since "Fool's Game" in 1983 -- a chance to immerse himself in some of the city's music but also get an in-depth look at its current situation. And where other outsiders see despair, Bolton says he got to see the promise.
"We came to Detroit, to (the Motown Historical Museum) and brought cameras and a crew to do a documentary for the album," recalls Bolton, 60, who was born Michael Bolotin in Connecticut. "Before we got on the plane we had all this information about a group of people who are doing some amazing things in Detroit -- Dan Gilbert and the Quicken Loans people and some real estate people -- and rebuilding the city from the center out.
"So we stopped by their offices, too, and got some (sound) bites and looked at what they were doing in Detroit, and it was very enlightening -- and inspiring. So we're telling that story. We're not even from Detroit and we're enjoying telling it."
Bolton says he was also pleased to subsequently learn that he wasn't the only one rooting for the Motor City from afar.
"There's a really big kind of fan base of people who have nothing to do with Detroit who would like to see the comeback of this great city," he says. "It's really a no-brainer for me to go back to my childhood, especially Motown and Hitsville. That's some of my favorite music, and some of the people I became friends with wrote that catalog -- Holland-Dozier-Holland, Stevie (Wonder), Ashford & Simpson.
"That's a cast of characters who are icons in our musical history who all owe Detroit and all their experience and success to something that is staggering when you look back at it, just how successful and all-encompassing (Motown) was."
Bolton, who's scored nine No. 1 hits and has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide, has recorded Motown songs before, but he says the idea of an entire album dedicated to the label had long appealed to him. On one hand it was easier than creating a standard solo album -- "I didn't have to start writing songs," he notes with a laugh -- but the challenge was deciding which songs to do for "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," which debuted at No. 38 on the Billboard 200 chart after its late February release.
"I was basically combing through hundreds of songs, all of them masterpieces," Bolton recalls. "I was on tour and would be walking through the streets of Berlin or going to the gym or to restaurants and I'd have the headphones on. I never had that much material to comb through in my life when I was preparing for a record.
"The great thing was that it was basically like walking through the DNA of my life with this music. There were so many great songs. I could definitely do a second or a third volume and STILL have things I'd want to record."
Those will have to wait in line, however, as Bolton has a number of other projects in his sights these days. He's developing "a couple" of television shows he hopes to unveil early next year and is continuing to work on a stage musical. He's planning a new album of original material, too -- his first since "One World One Love" in 2009 -- but is mostly spending his timing co-writing with "a group of people who are like the hot guns," younger artists who he's not yet naming but who he's creating material with that will wind up wherever it fits.
"It's really full circle back to when everything took off for me," Bolton explains. "I was writing with Dianne Warren and Desmond Child and my songs were getting covered left and right and I was finding my own strength as a performer at the same time. So I'm just writing songs right now, and we'll see where they wind up.
"The good news is that melody is back in pop music again. There's a lot of melody in music now, across the board from hip-hop to country, and that's where I'm the most comfortable, so a lot of what I'm doing does feel like the next stuff I'll be singing."
Michael Bolton performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Macomb Music Theatre, 31 N. Walnut St., Mount Clemens. Tickets are $44.95-$99.95. Call 586-541-1107 or visit www.macombmusictheatre.com.
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