If Mr. Thomas appears to be a little older than your average solo debut R&B artist it’s because he’s been around for a while. A native of Chicago, Thomas was originally part of The Formula (Epic Records), and has appeared on releases by the likes of labelmate Black Rob (“Jasmine”), Tash (“The Game”), and Drea (“Got Ya Back”). However, my first recollection of him was when he sang the refrain to Marvin’s “If I Should Die Tonight” on Puffy’s 1997 debut. Providing the backdrop to an interlude of the same title, the track saw P-Diddy enlighten us with his thoughts about death.
Thankfully Mr. Combs is almost entirely absent from this album. There are no annoying “that’s right’s” etc., and he only co-produces one track (“Wake up in the Morning”). Significantly there are also no guest artists. The result of all of this is an album that is strictly about Carl Thomas. Predominantly mid-to-down-tempo this is a contemporary R&B set of the highest order.
By now you should all be familiar with the lead single “I Wish.” A tale of a broken heart this is destined to become a classic. Elsewhere, Sting’s “Shape of my Heart” is sampled to great effect on the title track “Emotional.” Produced by Mario Winans, his additional vocals also give the track a somewhat haunting feel. Also noteworthy are the yearning “Come To Me” (co-written by Kelly Price) and “Giving You All My Love” (also produced by Winans). In addition to these you should check the Isley Brothers-esque “Supastar” and the sublime “Hey Now.” Produced by Heavy D the latter comes complete with some rather nice piano flourishes, organ fills and strings. Nevertheless, the standout moment has to be the seductive “Lady Lay Your Body.”
Do not be put off by his association with Bad Boy. There are no throwaway pop songs. Indeed, If Black Rob’s recent album was Bad Boy’s attempt to get beyond commercially lacklustre releases by the likes of Mase, and Puffy himself, then this release can in many ways be seen as an R&B equivalent which seeks to lay to rest the ghost of disappointing sophomore albums from the likes of 112, Total and Faith. However, whilst a slew of guest artists somewhat undermined the authority of Black Rob’s attempt to return to the hip-hop glory days of Biggie’s classic Ready To Die, Carl Thomas has been given the freedom to express himself as an individual. As a result what we have here is a highly personal album which features some beautifully crafted work. By far the best Bad Boy R&B release since Faith Evan’s self-titled 1995 debut.
// Notes from the Road
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