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'More' Things Change : Maturing Influences Fill Montell Jordan's Album With Hope for Soul, R&B

December 21, 1996|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Montell Jordan is the kind of guy you like to root for. The mannerly R&B singer-songwriter is quick to answer compliments with a sincere "thank you." He's well-spoken and eminently insightful when speaking about the state of R&B and his place in it. And, most important, he is one gifted dude.

On his new album, "More . . .," Jordan--who appears Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana--flashes a gorgeous and passionately soulful voice on a platter of all-original material that ranges from romantic ballads to funk and hip-hop. Meshing the best of two worlds and two eras, Jordan's voice is on the traditional soul side (with vocal nods to Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Al Green), but the production is modern.

He was born and raised in West Los Angeles. His upbringing had all the ingredients that go into an acute R&B consciousness.

"I grew up listening to my mother's and my grandmother's old records, so I was very much a kid of the mid- to late '60s," said Jordan, 28, in a recent phone interview. "It was very much a soul artist upbringing. I was around music all the time. A Baptist church background, singing in choir. But I didn't even become a singer until I was teenager. I started out more as a musician than a singer, actually. I started out very young on the clarinet and moved from that to alto sax. Then, when I was 10, 11 years old, I used to play piano and organ in church. I took lessons from the pastor."

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This church-and-family sensibility would be an important influence on Jordan's life. While others around him fell to drugs, crime or violence, Jordan held onto his common sense and did not veer from that path.

"Most of the older, male, African American role models that I had pretty much went astray," he said. "In my neighborhood, the guys that I looked up to were older guys that went to the same church I did. They sang; they played baseball, and I wanted to be like them. As we got older, with the rise of drugs and gang violence, most of the guys I had known had either gotten hooked on drugs or gone to prison or were dead. I wonder to this day why I didn't go in the direction they did. Maybe it was the fact that I had two parents. Maybe it's because I had that church upbringing. I don't know if it was a strong will and a strong desire, but I've never been a person to settle for anything. I've always been driven to excel."

Jordan's outlook is apparent in much of the material on "More . . .." Song titles such as "I Say Yes," "I Like," "Let Me Be the One" and "Everything Is Gonna Be Alright" tell the story of a man with a positive spin on life and love. Yet Jordan defends the much bases subject matter of much gangsta rap and R&B as a valid form of expression, even as he laments the fact that the music reflects harsh realities.

The one thing Jordan doesn't condone in music or in life is a disrespect for women; to that end, his own songs show a loving, caring side.

"It's a reflection of the way Montell feels about his mom and his grandmom and the way he feels about women and relationships," Jordan said. "This album is very much about the way I'm in tune with what's going on around me."

Jordan has reached new levels of emotional maturity since the release of his platinum-selling debut album, released three years ago. "This Is How We Do It" reflected a younger and more impulsive artist, one who perhaps let the initial rush of fame turn his head, at least temporarily.

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But with experience--and a new daughter--Jordan says he he has outgrown the persona of "This Is How We Do It."

"The first album, people got this edgy street kid who was living a little too much on the wild side and talking about partying and drinking," he said. "That's what I was looking at three years ago when I was first getting into the music industry.

"Since that time three years ago, I've seen a lot of things happen. People come and go. I brought a little baby girl into this world, and I think my perception of relationships with women--and life in general--has completely changed. And my perception of being in the music industry has completely changed."

So far, the August-released "More . . . " has yielded a Top 20 R&B single in "Falling," with "What's on Tonight" to be released as a single in January. Though sales haven't matched the platinum figures of "This Is How We Do It," it's early.

"I think with Montell Jordan, you get a sense of hope for soul and R&B music that hopefully everything isn't making a turn for the worse," he said. "Maybe everybody isn't getting killed on records and people aren't always breaking up. There's a sense of a hope for love and positive progress."

* Montell Jordan performs Sunday, 8 p.m. at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. Yayo Jones opens. Tickets are $21.50. (714) 957-0600.

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