Patience is a virtue. It can pay off in the most fruitful of creative results, as evidenced by Back 2 Smooth, the secular debut album of New Jersey native Les Dion. After several decades of close calls and deals gone bad, the singer-songwriter delivers a cohesive set of relaxed, yet upbeat, R&B gems tailored for those who like their vibes positive—their musical moods sweet.
Opening with the supple groove of the title track, Back 2 Smooth is a consistently pleasing showcase of a tenderhearted tenor vocalist with an understanding of lyrical and musical authenticity. Dion's phrasing floats gently atop layers of breezy guitars on "Back 2 Smooth," an Isley Brothers-inspired midtempo joint propelled by emotive chord progressions. "Dinner was perfect, the movie was sweet," he lightly coaxes during the first verse of "Stay," the second track. His falsetto treatment of this ballad brings to mind Russell Thompkins, Jr., and is a solid indicator of the notable range displayed throughout the CD. Likewise, Dion's unassuming approach to lyrics here is exemplary of the sensitivity to be found on each selection.
"Until I hear your heartbeat pounding next to mine, I've got work to do/'Til every single star up in the sky knows that I belong to you." These charmingly vulnerable and honest lines from the slow-jam "I Belong to You" are sure to win the hearts of female listeners searching for a respite from over-sexified lotharios pitching pseudo-romantic phrases to the masses. On the contagious "Your Love Is What I Need," Dion reassures: "I ain't like the other guys, tryin' to get between your thighs." Coupled with a shuffling dance beat, the fluid sax lines make for a unique accompaniment to his marked urgency during the chorus.
Carrying a similarly sprightly groove, the catchy "Callin'" recalls the rhythmic flow of Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" while telling a tale of going to all lengths to recover a love lost in the lines of miscommunication. Meanwhile, "Godstrong" keeps the knack for head-nodding while focusing on overcoming personal barriers: "You're ticked off, It's only 'cause you can't get up off that negative/Forget about the cause...the answer...is right around the way." The song is a zenith of Dion's struggles as an artist to reach his present state of self-sufficient creativity. As the eleventh track on Back 2 Smooth, it would make for an ideal closer to the set. But he provides a different sort of listening therapy with the final selection, "Heaven"—a moving dedication to his two late sons, both of whom passed at age 20.
Back 2 Smooth is a refreshing collection of unaffected, uncluttered R&B with thoughtful messages and melodic glow. Tinged with bits of smooth-jazz guitar and chord structures, the content is largely both laid-back and danceable. There are one or two songs that aren't absolutely essential to the package; but in totality, Les Dion has proffered a satiating, independently produced CD that stands a cut above even many of his major-label contemporaries' efforts—thanks to a genuine vision and skilled performance. Highly recommended.
by Justin Kantor