CALVIN RICHARDSON; I Am Calvin (Primary Wave/Jordan House)

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North Carolina’s Calvin Richardson is often described as soul’s almost man. Known as a naturally soulful singer (in the great tradition of his idol, the late Bobby Womack), Calvin débuted back in 1999 with the classic ‘Country Boy’ album which went on to sell over 100,000 units. Four more LPs followed including a heart-felt tribute to Bobby Womack but for reasons never fully explained they never managed to consolidate the impact of that defining debut set.

Maybe this new album might change things. For a start, it’s enjoying the high profile promotion you’d expect from a release on Eric Benet’s label; secondly, overall the 11 tracker is a more consistent piece of work than Calvin’s other long players; thirdly, the soundscape of ‘I Am Calvin’ is right on the contemporary soul/R&B vibe… more Joe that Bobby Womack; and fourthly, loads of interest was created by the set’s first single, the ultra infectious ‘We Gon’ Love’.

The good news is that ‘We Gon’ Love’ isn’t the only goodie on the album. ‘Dark Side Of Love’ is a great, chugging dancer; ‘What Would I Do’ has obvious and immediate appeal for those who espouse the modern soul cause; and ‘More Than a Picture’ is a wonderful mid-tempo groove which goes some way to explain why our Calvin dubs himself “Prince Soul”. The album’s killer cut though is ‘Home In A Minute’. It’s a subtle, little dance tune that builds and builds. Little wonder that it’s already getting loads of rotation on the best soul stations and winning plenty of plays from discerning DJs. It makes a great up-tempo, optimistic ending to the album and it’s in stark contrast to the opening track – a very sombre, simple ballad called ‘Before This Moment Leaves’.

‘I Am Calvin’ also boasts a pair of decent covers. First up, Calvin shows his penchant for classic crooners by offering his take on Brook Benton’s ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ while he jumps forwards a few decades for a stab at DeBarge’s ‘All This Love’. Lyrically, though neither would ever win the Pulitzer Prize, they’re both head and shoulders above most of the lyrics on the new material. Sadly most descend into sexual stereotyping and get little further than extolling the virtues of bondage handcuffs. Maybe I’m old fashioned and as I said up top this is album is Calvin’s attempt to get right into the contemporary market… so, I guess, good luck to him.

On another tack – my copy of the album featured a full 11 tracks; the liner only mentions 10. The “intruder” is a sensual little tune called ‘Slow Job’. Though it’s pleasant enough, it opens with the very questionable line, “Even when a woman says no, sometimes she really means yes. She just wants a little persuasion.” C’mon Calvin, with a great soul voice like yours you can do better than that!

(BB) 4/5