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Soul Express Album Review


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GERALD LEVERT:
In My Songs

US Atlantic, 2007
1) In My Songs 2) I Don't Get Down Like That 3) DJ Don't 4) Wanna Get Up With You 5) Fall Back 6) Deep As It Goes 7) Hang In There 8) Sweeter 9) What Cha Think About That 10) To My Head 11) M'Lady 12) Is This The Way To Heaven?

The passing of Gerald Levert last year was nothing short of shocking. It took some time to sink in, and thoughts immediately went to his family and friends. Eddie Levert Sr can surely take stock of his son's life and times with pride, and especially his achievements in the music field. It's on this note that the CD begins with a sincere and beautiful dedication from father to son. Away from the tradgedy though, and purely on issue pertaining to musicality, I feel that the move towards Atlantic Records was a good one. “Do I Speak For The World” was a landmark album as well as being a very bold move. Gerald proved himself – not that he needed to – that he was much more than an R&B baladeer, struggling to survive musically in a viciously hostile industry environment and having to adapt to trends to keep the corporate bods happy. Gerald struck out and made his mark. This album is not a personal statement of world affairs, but is back on familiar territory of love and romance. I know some roll their eyes at this, but it is something that is not respected or given merit today. Love, to me is all that matters and there is no greater expression of love from that which is wrenched from the soul of a man in his music.

Those who had started to despair of Gerald's direction in the late 90s / early 00s will be more receptive to this Atlantic output. I think the CD is a solid one and I for one cannot stop playing “DJ Don't” which is an exuberant uptempo number with a strong foothold in the 80s funk tradition. The keys are straight out of Cameo's back catalogue – think Back And Forth – and the slamming bassline does nought but get the feet tapping. As far as I am concerned the CD is essential for this track alone. The title track allows Gerald to give us a traditional soul ballad but without some of the dramatisation that he was prone to on his later East-West tracks.

“I Don't Get Down Like That” carries the torch of what I call real and proper R&B. I love this sort of material...plenty lively instruments, a sexy arrangement and impassioned singing. You cannot beat it. This is definitely some of the late, great man's best material. Keeping the uptempo vein is the excellent “Wanna Get Up With You”. Here, Gerald proves that R&B can be dancefloor friendly without stooping to samples, swearing and over-the-top basslines. “Fall Back” isn't my favourite song, but for me draws some parity with Sheree Brown's “I'd Rather Be In Love With You”. This is a more contemporary groove; the handclapping and clomping mechanical beat more akin to some of the more modern cuts on the most recent Brian McKnight release. Not bad, but not a highlight either.

Rarely does Gerald use an electric guitar in his work, and I know its not the cup of tea of a lot of readers, but I for one feel that it has its place in soul music. “Deep As It Goes” gets the balance just right. However, I think you'll feel that on reflection it is the uptempo material that win the day on this CD. Ballads such as “What Cha Think About That” are too commercial and bland R&B efforts for me, however these are saved by Gerald's experience, chops and vocal maturity. This keeps the head above water. One of the better ballads for me is the atmospheric and slightly unusual closing song, “Is This The Way To Heaven”; with militaristic style drumrolls, acoustic guitar and triangles in the mix this certainly stands out from the crowd.

I understand that there is enough recorded material in the can for another 5 albums. In fact, June sees the release in the US of another album entitled “Men Like Us”... Let's hope that these, too, see the light of day and that we may continue to have new music from the man who those who knew him called him “Teddy Bear”.
-Barry Towler


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