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Showcasing His Range, Jon B Reveals His Limits

Record Rack

March 17, 2001|NATALIE NICHOLS

JON B

"Pleasures U Like"

Edmonds/Epic

** 1/2

The auteur theory of modern R&B-pop holds that the best artists are singing their own songs, playing their own instruments, producing their own records or, preferably, all of the above. Pasadena's Jon B does a lot of everything on his third album (in stores Tuesday), the follow-up to 1997's "Cool Relax."

These 20 sprawling, densely packed tracks are designed to demonstrate Jon B's growing fluency with the various nuances of his smooth soul/hip-hop blend. The Babyface protege does have a way with different styles, but "Pleasures U Like" reveals little beyond an adept mimic.

His persona is a classic mix of sweet lover and naughty boy, by turns emulating Prince, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, et al. Songs such as the sleek come-on "Don't Talk" even recall the more recent success of such acts as Lucy Pearl. Ultimately the album is a generic, if not entirely unpleasant, pastiche of modern R&B, right down to inevitable guest appearances by Babyface, Nas, Faith Evans and others.

When Jon B (who plays the House of Blues on Monday) does show himself, it's usually in unbearably syrupy ballads. More encouraging is the clearheaded vulnerability of the do-you-wanna-break-up tune "Tell Me." Maybe he has something to offer besides what he's learned from others, but he sure seems to have little of his own to say.

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