K-Ci and JoJo - My Brother's Keeper

K-Ci and JoJo
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If you made it through your formative adult years without hearing raspy adlibs like "Yeaaaaaaaah" or "HOO yeah!," chances are you missed out on the 90s heyday of Jodeci. Hailing from both Viginia and North Carolina, two pairs of brothers---Donald & Dalvin DeGrate and Cedric & Joel Hailey, respectively--- channeled their church-cultivated vocals and musical ambitions into a demo tape that was fortunate enough to catch the ear of Heavy D. An eventual deal with Uptown Records and urban-edged grooming from Sean "Puffy" Combs led to platinum sales and a near-dominance of the soul charts, thanks to hits like "Stay," "Feenin'," "Forever My Lady" and "Love U 4 Life." 
Able to vascillate from speaker-bumping New Jack Swing to gritty and sexualized slow jams, it was inevitable thatsuch versatility would afford the Hailey brothers, known as K-Ci and JoJo, success beyond Jodeci's comfort zone. Hits with soundtrack singles and rapper/actor Tupac Shakur (Jason's Lyric "If You Think You're Lonely Now," Shakur's "How Do U Want It") led to the memorable debut album Love Always, fueled by the inescapable ballad "All My Life." As subsequent CDs followed with less chart-topping singles, K-Ci and Jojo's ecscalating issues and addictions threatened to end their turbulent lives, but 2010's TVOne reality show, "Come Clean," helped to quiet their inner demons and reconnected the duo personally and musically, resulting in their latest project, My Brother's Keeper.

Because K-Ci and JoJo know their lane and don't try performing stunts and tricks outside of it, the CD offers a satisfying---if not spectacular---assortment of adult-contemporary and modern soul, with a few touches of hip-hop to spice it up. The bluesy, shuffling "Somebody Please" hearkens right back to the 1994 Bobby Womack remake, notes scraped from K-Ci's gut as he begs somebody---anybody---to help him understand why his love his gone and how he can bring her back to the crib. "Say Hello To Goodbye" is a delicate midtempo with JoJo at the helm, sung with an understated resolve about too little appreciation and too little love: "I'm sayin' hello to goodbye, I don't wanna hurt no more....I cried my very last cry, I tried for the very last time, so I'm saying goodbye."

The most impressive moments are the ones showing the most growth: The title track is the best, with Big Brother K-Ci and Lil' Brother JoJo singing heartily of their triumphs and trials while thanking their parents for life, lessons and even 'the whoopings' that made them the men they are today: "We done heard it, we done seen it, we done done it all/ baby mama drama, rehab life on the reality show. Between money and the fame, women and the game/how we still here only God knows."  The title "Middle of The Night" sounds like an assignation for an evening 'creep' or an all-out raunchfest, but it's actually reminiscing about how he and his lady got some good loving in after grown-folks' responsibilities are handled: "She said 'Baby, did you make sure the kids are asleep?'/I said 'Baby, yes I did, so you can scream. Loud as you want to...." 

Some songs fall flat here and there ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is on the listless side, while "Knock It Off" and "Lay You Down" try to be sexy, but the disembodied "chopped and screwed" vocals in the chorus come off as sinister instead), but fans of the brothers and the band will find that My Brother's Keeper accomplishes two feats: reminding them of the brothers' impactful start and a future, with or without Jodeci, that is certainly worth some extra moments back on center stage. Recommended. 

By Melody Charles