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Music Reviews

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August 24, 1994

Just Because

NylonsThe Nylons, Because (Scotti Bros. 1994) -- One of the most surprising soul finds of the year is Because, the eighth disc from the Canadian quartet known as The Nylons. With their tremendous harmonies and excellent choice of material, the Nylons highlight the one weakness in All-4-One (see review below) -- strong singing can't cover weak material.

And that's where The Nylons shine. The bulk of the cuts on Because are covers, and all of them are A-List material. The album opens with a rich remake of the Zombies' 1969 hit, "Time of the Season," before heading into a brooding, swirling rendition of the Beatles' "Because" that more than holds it's own.

And, hey, any group with cojones enough to pull off a Beatles cover deserves a fair listen. In discussing Because, founding member Claude Morrison adds, "It's a sophisticated album. There's a lushness to the entire project that's apparent in both the singing and the songs we selected. It's a very smooth sounding album."

The group, which was formed in Toronto in 1979, now find themselves the somewhat unlikely bearers of the classic, harmony-based R&B banner -- who'd have thought two brothers and two white guys from the Great White North would be capable of such a cohesive, charming, and soulful project?

But here it is. In keeping with their remarkable selection of material, Because includes covers of two of the greatest soul songs from the last decade -- Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name," and the incomparable Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." Producer Sam Phillips once said that the key to a hit record is melancholy lyrics behind a happy melody, and "Sexual Healing" is the perfect example of this formula -- there's a real midnight tension to the lyrics, but the smooth ballad nature of the song has an irresistible pull to it.

Both these songs are ideal showcases for the band's talents, and highlight their rich harmonies, gentle instrumentation, and heart-felt delivery. Also featured are covers of the Bee Gees' "Too Much Heaven" and Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." All-4-One may be up-and-coming, but the oldtimers in The Nylons know how to deliver the goods. With timeless songs and classic arrangements, Because is an album that you need to add to your collection.

All-4-OneAll-4-One, All-4-One (Atlantic 1994) -- The dynamic quartet from Southern California that call themselves All-4-One have released a self-titled debut disc that further proves that the delights of 50s and 60s harmony vocals have never left us -- they've just gone untapped for years. These young soul singers have given doo-wop a contemporary sound; the result is this big-selling disc.

The four band members, all hailing from Southern California, are a poly-cultural lot; Jamie Jones and Delious Kennedy are African-American, Alfred Nevarez is a Mexican-American, and Tony Borowiak is the token white guy. Jamie, Tony and Alfred first met in a recording studio while singing jingles for a local radio station. To complete the lineup, they recruited Delious, who had previously performed on Arsenio Hall's "Flavor of the Future" show.

None have any formal musical training, and each cites his respective church choir as a major musical influence. "That's where we all learned to sing, and how voices can blend together," explains Delious. Tony, who handles many of the high falsetto parts, also sang with a barber shop quartet.

As is common in the music business, the new lineup jelled quickly, and was soon signed to Atlantic Records. Their first single, "So Much In Love" (a remake of the 1963 song by the Tymes) proved an immediate favorite -- this smooth, appealing cover leads off All-4-One, and has helped vault the album into Billboard's Top 10.

The balance of the cuts on the disc are originals penned by the band; the group has a contemporary urban R&B feel, with an emphasis on harmonies and an avoidance of the techno dancehall sound. Another highlight is "(She's Got) Skillz," a sly, hip-hugging number propelled by a sinewy drum beat and layered vocal hooks.

All told, All-4-One is a likeable update of the Philadelphia street-corner sound. The kids know what's hip, but their familiarity with the contemporary urban scene doesn't overwhelm their reverence for harmony vocals. Expect to hear more from these guys.

El DeBargeEl DeBarge, Heart, Mind & Soul (Reprise 1994) -- On Heart, Mind & Soul, El DeBarge shows that he is the heir-apparent to the synthesizer-based soul crown held for many years by Stevie Wonder. Proving that he is also a master of the studio, Heart, Mind & Soul has a slick sound that highlights the talents of DeBarge.

Heart, Mind & Soul has a solo project feel, as DeBarge penned all the cuts, provided all the lead vocals, and supplied much of the instrumentation. The core of outside musicians is small; Mr. Wonder provides a harmonica solo on the leadoff cut, "Where Are You," and producer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds provides synthesizer and drum programming on several tracks.

Heart, Mind & Soul is filled with late-night bedroom tunes. Says DeBarge, "When I first began the album, I wanted to do some really hip music, music that was current, stylish. There's a whole new generation out there that I wanted to introduce to my music."

DeBarge's voice is strong and assured on Heart, Mind & Soul; though he is easily able to reach the higher ranges (ala Prince), DeBarge is more content to stick to layered productions that feature his voice against often intricate musical backgrounds. On cuts like "Can't Get Enough" and "It's Got to Be Real," DeBarge also shows his familiarity with the 50s balladeers.

While there is no trace of the drinking songs that made albums like In the Wee Small Hours classics, Heart, Mind & Soul has a swinging feel to it. DeBarge is good, and Heart, Mind & Soul catches him at the top of his game.

-- Randy Krbechek

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