When the Who started out, they billed themselves as "maximum R&B." And before Pete Townshend embraced teenage wasteland and became one of rock's poet laureates, the group was content playing blues and soul covers. Check out their stirring version of James Brown's "I Don't Mind" on My Generation, their myriad Bo Diddley covers and their Eddie Holland rave-up "Leaving Here" for a taste of that pre-fame aesthetic. Before long, though, they progressed into an arty hard-rock group with operatic ambitions.
On As Long as I Have You, Roger Daltrey's ninth solo outing and first in more than a quarter century, he goes back to belting out soul numbers like he did half a century ago. The title track, a pleading, horn-accented R&B barnburner by Garnet Mimms that kicks off the collection, is even a tune he sang with the Who when they were called the High Numbers in the early Sixties. Seventy-four-year-old Daltrey's voice is a little gruffer than it was when he was a young buck, but it's as strong and passionate as ever when he pushes himself on this collection of songs by everyone from soul singer Joe Tex to Fifties vocal group the Five Keys.
What's impressive, though, is how he never sounds like he's doing an impression of the artist he's covering (like he used to do with Bo Diddley), maintaining a consistent, full-band sound throughout the entire release. Townshend plays guitar on six of the record's 11 songs, but it's also the brass section and a gospel choir that make the record feel more like an singular artistic vision than just a (mostly) covers outing.
Daltrey's version of Dusty Springfield's "Where Is a Woman to Go" (switched to "Where Is a Man to Go" here) sounds as though it were written just for him with its "dooda-dooda-dooda-ay" refrains, and the early Parliament song "Come In Out of the Rain" – retitled "Get On Out of the Rain" here – has a funky quality that's a little outside the P-Funk universe (it's worth noting that George Clinton didn't write this one). Where Nick Cave approached "Into My Arms" as a reflective piano ballad, Daltrey turns it into a vocal powerhouse showcase with his signature flare, and he slows down Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothing" to a heavy-rock pace where he can holler along with the trumpets.
And when Daltrey sings his originals here, such as the tribute to his daughter, Rosie, "Certified Rose," he pulls from the same toolbox as the other songs: bright horns and a swinging backbeat. It's all part of something grander for him. Even the album's closing track, "Always Headed Home" – another Daltrey original – is a big, orchestral ballad that would also work as a Broadway torch song. Sometimes the album verges on melodrama but he has a way of selling it where it never sounds like he's acting. It's not all R&B, but it is Maximum Daltrey.