Jodeci - The Past, The Present, The Future (2015)

Jodeci
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The vocal quartet known as Jodeci has been called a lot of things since emerging in the public eye in the early 1990s, but prolific is not one of them. The group comprised of brothers Donald “Devante Swing” and Dalvin “Mr. Dalvin” DeGrate and Cedric “K-Ci” and Joel “JoJo” Hailey released four albums as Jodeci since they debuted with their critically acclaimed Forever My Lady in 1991. The fourth is their current reunion project, The Past, The Present, The Future.

By comparison, two equally loved groups who also dropped their debut album in 1991 - the vocal group Boyz II Men and the band Mint Condition -released 13 and eight albums in roughly the same period.

The vocal quartet known as Jodeci has been called a lot of things since emerging in the public eye in the early 1990s, but prolific is not one of them. The group comprised of brothers Donald “Devante Swing” and Dalvin “Mr. Dalvin” DeGrate and Cedric “K-Ci” and Joel “JoJo” Hailey released four albums as Jodeci since they debuted with their critically acclaimed Forever My Lady in 1991. The fourth is their current reunion project, The Past, The Present, The Future.

By comparison, two equally loved groups who also dropped their debut album in 1991 - the vocal group Boyz II Men and the band Mint Condition -released 13 and eight albums in roughly the same period.

It would be more than accurate to place “highly anticipated” before any description of this new Jodeci record because this quartet – like their aforementioned contemporaries who are still out here grinding a quarter century later – is loved by their fans -  albeit for different reasons. For while Boyz II Men harkened to a bygone era of quartet and doo-wop singing rooted in the gospel groups of the post-war period and extended to the R&B and soul acts of the 50s, 60s and 70s, Jodeci fused the tight harmonies, and muscular vocals of soul men such as Bobby Womack (a singer they covered) with the production techniques, swagger and bedroom braggadocio of their hip-hop contemporaries. In fact, it could be argued convincingly that the likes of Chris Brown and Try Songz would not be possible if it has not been for 1990s groups such as Jodeci.

And those who purchase The Past, The Present, The Future will hear that style of R&B/hip-hop fusion on some club bangers. But here’s the thing about Jodeci: Their most memorable songs were the ones that were no less testosterone driven but managed to sub the sexual braggadocio for rapturous joy, angst, longing or frustration. In short, much of what made Jodeci such a memorable quartet is the same thing that has always made soul music so appealing – their willingness to be honest and vulnerable without sacrificing one iota of their virility.

So while the youngsters will gravitate to the staccato monotone delivery and bad boys of R&B gangster love of “Stress Reliever,” cuts such as the regret filled “Jennifer” showcase Jodeci’s underrated strengths as the renderers of the R&B/soul ballad. The cut finds the group telling of a man doing a post mortem on a relationship that ends with the Jennifer of the song’s title moving on with somebody else. With the piano as their main accompaniment until the song’s very end when swelling strings swoop in, the ragged edges of K-Ci and JoJo’s vocals bring an added level of poignancy to the regret contained the narrative because those voices tell the real life story of two guys who lived some version of that story in real life.

“Every Moment,” the album’s first single, stylistically places Jodeci on the familiar ground of being backed by booming hip-hop bass line and syncopated programmed drums, and the quartet’s comfort level in that space remains high. It always seemed that their strong vocals and razor sharp harmonies would be out of place in a world that often preferred its male vocalist to sing in a higher more boyish range. However, the Jodeci method worked in the past on cuts such as “Come and Talk To Me” and it works here on “Every Moment” because individually and as unit the quartet brings an up close and personal intimacy and honesty that a lot of other vocalists just can’t match.

Most of the up-tempo songs such as the opening “Too Hot” are not as strong. From a production standpoint that track will serve to get folks on the floor, but lyrically and thematically the cut is too dependent on those clichéd lines that objectify women. The one exception is the banging “Body Parts,” a delightfully naughty duet featuring Mila J.

There are some uneven spots on The Past, The Present, The Future, but not nearly as much rust as one might expect from an outfit that’s hasn’t worked together for two decades. And I expect that the group’s many fans from the past will look past the project's weaker moments and will be be more than happy to welcome Jodeci back to the present. Moderately Recommeded.

By Howard Dukes

 
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