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A Churchy Jackson : CHECK LIST**** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

July 31, 1988|CONNIE JOHNSON

***FREDDIE JACKSON. "Don't Let Love Slip Away." Capitol. Jackson has one of the most distinctive male voices in black pop today--nobody else out there sounds like him when he gets warmed up. On his third album's best song, "If You Don't Know Me by Now" (not the 1972 Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes classic), Jackson's wild, churchy, mercurial phrasing starts shooting all over the place with a no-fear-of-flying abandon. Though distinctive as ever, Jackson's gruff and rough phrasing here is reminiscent of Blue Notes-era Teddy Pendergrass.

This album has a sleek, professional sheen that should please Jackson's confirmed followers. It's got the requisite pretty love songs ("Hey Lover," "Special Lady," "Yes I Need You") that Jackson could handle in his sleep. They all showcase his characteristic selling point: The ability to blend delicacy with grit. His songs evoke the imagery of a New York cityscape, minus the dirt and grime. Upscale all the way.

Jackson's own background includes a stint as the featured vocalist at the White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem. Broader glimpses of that influence in his work would be welcome, as would songs that seem more representative of Jackson and what he's really about. That's the kind of thing that would lend a personal signature to his music, and move it beyond good into something great.

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