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Soul Express CD Review

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(US Elektra 2002)
1) Too Much Room (featuring Mystikal) 2) Since You Ain’t Around 3) Wilding Me Out 4) Funny 5) The Top of My Head 6) The G Spot 7) Oh What a Night (featuring Roy Ayers) 8) Closure 9) Raindrops 10) Your Smile 11) Backbone 12) Catchin’ Feelings 13) All That Matters

There was a time when the arrival of a new Gerald Levert album was a celebrated occasion, but I’ve noticed signs of fatigue appearing in our small and weird world of soul enthusiasts. Frankly, apart from his lavishly arranged Philly masterpiece Groove On, Gerald’s records have been quite predictable. Or safe, if you wish to see things in a more positive light.

  This newie hits the wrong spot with its opening trio of songs. The first of them is a truly awful R&B number. Well, perhaps we can still appreciate Randy Bowland’s J.B.’s/Funky Space Reincarnation-style guitar work on it. The next track is a routine midtempo offering and the third a depressing Musiq-style non-song.

  For me the album starts with the first single pick Funny, a pleasant ballad plodder. The Top of My Head showcases Gerald’s falsetto over a Marvin/Smokey-influenced floater. The title cut is a slow make-out ballad with double-tracked falsetto vocals, and Oh What a Night an enjoyable stepper with Roy Ayers playing vibes and scatting a bit.

  After Closure, which is a ballad with an oddly schmaltzy string arrangement, Raindrops takes us back into a contemporary mid-tempo groove where some of us may not want to follow. Your Smile relies heavily on the over-played Ashford & Simpson chestnut Your Precious Love and features some vocal interplay between Gerald and Tommy “Zero” Johnson, who, I’m afraid, has an apt nickname when it comes to talent.

  Backbone is a slow, bluesy ballad like Misery on 1999’s G album; Catchin’ Feelings a midtempo ballad Gerald has done many times before. After all the praise given to it, the closing tune All That Matters is a disappointment as this Philly-inspired floater is badly in need of a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood drummer.

  The verdict: seven passable tracks, seven hard-earned points. (Rating: 7/10) –KH

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