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Johnny Gill: Game Changer

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 7/ 10

Soul Express CD of the Month - October-December 2014

US Notifi / Skillz Records CD, 2015
Buy this album from our CD Shop

1) Your Body 3:34
2) Behind Closed Doors 3:50
3) This One's For Me And You [feat. New Edition] 4:36
4) What Is This 4:24
5) Game Changer 3:28
6) 5000 Miles 3:31
7) You Choose Me 4:10
8) Strung Out 3:51
9) Role Play 4:18
10) Gonna Cost 3:33
11) Can't Keep My Hands Off Of You 3:43
12) Guinevere 4:28

I just realised that of my all-time favourite male soul singers, Johnny Gill is now the only one still alive. The best thing is that he is not only alive, but he is in terrific condition vocally! I found Johnny's "comeback" album Still Winning from 2011 very disasppointing, but this 2014 new release (his seventh) proves Mr. Gill can still sing like a real soul singer, despite the very up-to-date and lacklustre R&B musical setting.

The backings of the album are actually still reminiscent of the Levert-Sweat-Gill (LSG) recordings over 10 years ago, but Johnny's singing is the real thing, and the main course here. The backing vocals are occasionally spoilt by typical autotuning of current R&B trends, and on the title track Johnny "duets" with a talk box by Sean Cooper, but otherwise you can hear top form singing like in the heyday of soul music.

The opening track Your Body is probably meant to clone the overall feel of My Body track by LSG, with a cliched R&B chorus and typical autotuned backing vocals. The first single release Behing Closed Doors also starts in a very high-tech drum machine beat, but Johnny turns this R. Kelly-type of R&B ballad into a passionate bedroom churner. Johnny has started to do also falsetto singing in recent years, and while on the previous album he still didn't convince with his higher register at all, on this particular track he does a pretty good job switching his baritone into high falsetto every now and then.

Members of New Edition visit on the following track, and I have to say that they haven't matured a bit in 20 years - they still sound like teenage boys! And autotuning doesn't help, indeed. But Johnny Gill does not need autotuning, unlike Ralph Tresvant!

Johnny's falsetto - baritone dialogue continues on What Is This, and it demonstrates that Johnny is really in his element while ad-libbing the old-time preaching over the simple beat. The title track Game Changer is co-written by Babyface, and it combiness typical Babyface-style pop softness into Gill's rough vocalising and talk-box voices. A mixture of old and new, indeed.

Charles "Chuck" Harmony's ballad tune 5000 Miles is set in a slightly more atmospheric backdrop, and the composition is one of the best on this album. The same guy is responsible for the next track You Choose Me, which represents a more typical contemporary R&B sounds both melodically and in its musical setting. Some lively piano playing color the otherwise computerized backing.

When did you last time heard a decent uptempo R&B tune? Frankly, I hadn't heard a one in several years, but Role Play is a really compelling, dynamic upbeat mover with a superb bassy groove. Strung out also contains some delicous bass lines over the otherwise more typical R&B backdrop.

A couple of mediocre R&B ballads follow, and the album closes with a rather odd, house-ish techno dancer Guinevere.

As a whole, not an out-and-out masterpiece, but still a head and shoulders above any other music on R&B charts these days. The album topped at # 6 on Billboard R&B charts. Johnny Gill is definitely back on top.

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