Peabo Bryson has given listeners so much to enjoy (and, admittedly, to romance one another with) since his debut record in 1976. In addition to being a great singer, he’s also a fine songwriter, and much of his early work was self-composed. As time went on, he wound up collaborating with other songwriters, or, with his producers, picking from a crop of songs by professional tunesmiths.
Occasionally, he would slip a rendition of an already-recorded song into the mix, and wind up delivering, if not a definitive version, than one that contained his flair, his sound, his commitment to soul. Here, then, are a handful of Peabo Bryson’s best covers.
“A Song for You” (Leon Russell): Russell wrote this classic ballad and gave the song its first recording, but it’s been covered by literally hundreds of artists, from Donny Hathaway to the Carpenters to Willie Nelson; even Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse took swings at it. Bryson released his version in 1999, and it’s a winner - beautifully orchestrated and, of course, beautifully sung.
“Ain't Nobody” (Rufus & Chaka Khan): On the same album (Unconditional Love) on which Bryson covered “A Song for You,” he took on this early-’80s R&B and pop hit. While the original is faster-paced and more dramatic, Bryson gives it a late-’90s sheen and makes it his own.
“Soul Provider” (Michael Bolton): Bryson’s Can You Stop the Rain album in 1991 was a No. 1 R&B smash, and this cover was a surprising highlight. He hews closely to the melody in the verses, but opens up on the choruses, particularly the second one, on which he provides little trills and tasteful vocal gymnastics that lift the song. There are no histrionics here, just a great singer putting in the work.
“Minute by Minute” (The Doobie Brothers): The Doobies’ original already sounded like it could have been an R&B hit (credit singer Michael McDonald for that). Bryson makes that R&B connection more explicit, and he adds a great horn section to the proceedings as well.
“This Christmas” (Donny Hathaway): If you like R&B and you like Christmas tunes, and you don’t have Bryson’s 1997 holiday album Peace on Earth, you need to find a copy, or add it to your library on your favorite streaming service. The undeniable highlight is this run through Donny Hathaway’s superb holiday classic.