[25 April 2007]
You know that guy at work who’s been at the job for 20 years, doesn’t say much, but puts in an honest effort every day and rarely calls in sick? Gerald LeVert was the R&B world’s version of that guy. For almost a decade, usually once a year, Gerald (whether as 1/3 of LeVert, 1/3 of LSG, recording with his dad, the O’Jays’ Eddie LeVert or solo) put out an album of what we affectionately call “grown folks music”. No bells and whistles, just well-crafted songs topped off by that meaty, soulful voice. Sadly, that voice was silenced last summer when LeVert unexpectedly passed away at the young age of 40. “In My Songs” is not a tribute, or a quickly cobbled together collection of outtakes; it’s a full album of new material the singer had just completed when he passed. The music here takes on an added poignancy when you realize that it’s the last album of new material you will hear from him.
In My Songs finds LeVert far from reinventing the wheel. It’s the same meat-and-potatoes R&B he’d been serving his public for two decades. Like his dad, the younger LeVert knew when to deliver a subtle caress or a hearty shout, and could even float into a pretty falsetto when he wanted to. What amazes more than the voice though, is hiss creative dedication to this and all of his projects. He had a hand in co-writing and co-producing every song here.
Most of the tracks on this album are testimonials to love and fidelity, as well as the everyday issues that come up in relationships. LeVert definitely lets his guard down on the title song, a slow, swaying number on which he admits that he’s still looking for the type of love he sings about to thousands of adoring couples. Gerald conveys that pain and disappointment with precision detail. It’s a more fully realized version of what fellow deceased soul legend Luther Vandross sung about on bittersweet tunes like “Any Love”.
The tempo picks up a few tracks later for the gently bumping, “DJ Don’t”. The song perfectly conveys the release you feel at the end of a long work week when you just want to have a drink and shake your ass. It’s one of those songs that makes me smile in recognition. On the other side of the coin, “Is This the Way To Heaven?” is a stunningly seductive slow jam. I can see lots and lots of babies being born from this song, folks.
You can hear LeVert fiddling with formulas that worked for other R&B hits during the period this album was recorded, but it never sounds like thievery. Examples of this would be the synth-heavy “What’Cha Think About That”, which has a mild resemblance to the recent work of Timberlake & Timbaland, “To My Head” is a breezy semi-ballad reminiscent of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick”, and the excellent “M’Lady” goes for the sped-up soul sample trick that producers like Kanye West have practically trademarked. It’s to LeVert’s credit that he’s able to take all these sounds loosely associated with other artists and wrap them all together in his own sound.
The fact that R&B fans are so accustomed to the Gerald LeVert “sound” is probably why this album isn’t perfect. There’s a lot to be said about not straying from what you do well, but there are several songs on this album that are completely indistinguishable from just about every other Gerald LeVert song on every other Gerald LeVert album. While he never recorded a bad album, a lot of his albums have fallen by the wayside because they musically and lyrically rehash similar concepts.
Those fans of “real” R&B will not be disappointed by In My Songs. I think Gerald LeVert may have been a bit frustrated at the fact that he didn’t appeal to a hip, young audience, but kudos to him for not selling himself out in order to gain that audience. With a voice as mature and knowing as his, I doubt he would have had much success, anyway. In My Songs is a solid, dependable album that’s a fitting finale to a career that has sadly ended before it’s time.