"In My Songs" (Atlantic)
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When Gerald Levert died suddenly of heart failure in November at 40, fans were deprived of the soulful, romantic singer they called "Teddy Bear," and the pop music world lost one of that increasingly rare breed, the R&B auteur. The hit-making singer-songwriter-producer, and son of O'Jays cofounder Eddie Levert, didn't need an army of collaborators or technicians, and this final studio effort reaffirms his ability to update his classic-crooner style while maintaining his charismatic way with the ups and downs of l'amour.
Touchingly introduced by his father, the 12-song collection (in stores Tuesday) addresses matters of the more mature heart. Most poignantly, the title track laments Levert's situation as a singer of love songs who longs for a love of his own. Naturally, the album offers such come-ons as the smoothly funky "I Don't Get Down Like That," with its lure of promised backrubs and bubble baths, and the pulsating "What'cha Think About That," a percussive, modern-sounding dance track fueled by a skittering two-step rhythm.
But Levert and longtime musical associate Edwin "Tony" Nicholas also explore the everyday concerns of mainstream relationships, including a man's plea for trust from a suspicious love in the hip-hop-tinged "Hang in There."
Levert really gilds the sexual-healing lily with the double-entendre ballad "Deep as It Goes." But a lack of subtlety is hardly an unforgivable sin in contemporary soul, and his down-to-earth passion and personality here feel refreshingly real.
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