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RECORD RACK

* * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : SOUL BLOODLINES

October 25, 1987|CONNIE JOHNSON

* 1/2 MARLON JACKSON. "Baby Tonight." Capitol. * * 1/2 LEVERT. "The Big Throwdown." Atlantic. Former Jacksons member Marlon Jackson has produced his own debut solo album and written most of the tracks. He shows promise, especially when it comes to cooking up a chunky, fat-bottomed dance jam. But as a singer, Jackson is toe-curlingly bad. (And unlike the street vernacular in big brother Michael's hit of the same name, that ain't good.) It's admirable that Jackson wants to chart his own path (the only other family members to appear on the record are his wife and three children), but Jackson's independent spirit just might be clouding his objectivity. Michael Jackson, he isn't. And it's doubtful that even Jesse Jackson could sing this poorly.

The album does contain three interesting cuts: "Life," a rocker that warns of the obstacles that one faces in the world; "She Never Cried," a tale of a single mother's struggles told from her child's perspective; and "Where Do I Stand," a yearning, bring-on-the-strings symphonic ballad. Jackson could probably map out a successful career for himself as a producer/composer for other artists. If his voice was only as on-the-money as some of his melodic ideas, this album would have been a delight.

Proving that vocal talent can often run in the family is LeVert, a trio that sports two sons of the O'Jays' Eddie Levert--Sean and lead singer Gerald. The latter sounds almost exactly like his soul maestro father. The trio applauds marriage and monogamy on the hit single "Casanova," then rocks out with raunchy, funk pugnacity on "Temptation" and "In n Out." If you don't feel like dancing to the album's closer, "Throwdown," you can still sit back and play name-that-influence: Rick James, Sly & the Family Stone and Cameo.

It's the soul-rooted persuasiveness of Gerald's vocals that give LeVert its distinctiveness and appeal. He still has a way to go before matching the go-for-broke passion and power of his dad, but he's off to a roaring start.

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