Coming straight out of the Philadelphia sound in the early ‘70s, the O’Jays scored a series of hits records and songs. The core trio of Walter Williams, William Powell, and Eddie Levert were loved for their soulful sounds and gorgeous harmonies. Now, almost a quarter of a century after the heyday, the band and Sony Music has released their own love songs. And while most of the songs tend to fit the genre quite well, it appears that the record would be ideal for the avid collector, not necessarily the rookie fan.
The album, which consists of a dozen songs, begins with the rhythm and blues slow dance of “Let Me Make Love to You”. Resembling what current musicians like D’Angelo, K-Ci and Jo-Jo as well as Boyz II Men make a mint from mimicking, the song is proof that the group has buckets of talent. The backing harmonies and string sections tend to dampen the effort somewhat, but the vocal performances are stellar for the most part. “Stairway to Heaven” (and no, not that “Stairway to Heaven”), takes things down a notch or two, a tune that would be perfect for slow dancing after dimming the lights. The song, which topped the R&B charts in 1975, again relies heavily on a slick orchestral arrangement, but it still works. Its only possible drawback is the obviously length, clocking in at over six minutes.
Funk was another influence on the group, albeit minimally. “Time to Get Down” has a nice funky feeling to it while Ronnie Baker’s bass line keeps it all from falling apart. Taken from the band’s 1972 album, Back Stabbers, the number is short but sweet. Unfortunately though, the title of the next track conveys anything but love. “992 Arguments” is one of the weaker songs here, a Shaft-like hokey arrangement with even worse lyrical content. Aimless and without much forethought, the track still managed to chart in the R&B Top 20 in 1972. “Now That We Found Love” atones for the previous error though, a mid-tempo soul delivery that has the right amount of backing instrumentation. The Latin rhythms are a definite plus courtesy of the conga playing of Larry Washington.
At the core of the album is the beautiful “Sunshine”, one that comes off sounding quite current and an obvious influence on the current crop of “soul” singers. What is especially impressive is how the singers deliver the number without resorting to much theatrics. It’s soul saturated from start to finish. “You are, you are, you are my sunshine”, they sing in a manner that brings to mind Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall. “Listen to the Clock on the Wall” is another weak song though despite the honest sounding performances. The up-tempo pop feeling here is its own undoing, especially given the cheating taking place in the narrative. “You Got Your Hooks in Me” demonstrates the album’s hit-and-miss selections as Williams and Levert nail the song on the head with a jazz and quasi-Motown backdrop à la Smokey Robinson. It tends to be repetitive to the point of nausea, but never loses its steam.
Unfortunately, the album has roughly seven to eight “love” tracks but the concluding tunes don’t pack the same sonic punch as their predecessors. “Family Reunion” is far too forced and seems bland by the beginning of the second chorus. Everything sounds quite feeble here, whether it’s the vibraphones, the string arrangements or the paltry guitar “solo”, which consists of pathetic solo notes at times. A nine-minute live version of “Wildflower” is a perfect example of how the album hits both highs and lows. Some portion of the song are terrific, while in others it’s simply terrifying. The album is good, but there are better compilations out there.
// Notes from the Road
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