Charlie Wilson - Just Charlie (2010)

Charlie Wilson

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An old show-biz saying posits that when all other life ends, there will still be cockroaches and Cher, and with what all Charlie Wilson has endured, maybe his name needs to be added too. It's been a long and jagged road for the performer, who enjoyed years of success as a member of the legendary funk and soul trio, The Gap Band, only to spiral into alcoholism, drug addiction, destitution and homelessness when they ended their run. Thanks to his influence on ---and frequent collaborations with---the younger generation (Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly and T-Pain, to name a few), Mr. Wilson eventually sobered up, regained his professional swagger and was reborn as cool cat number one, "Uncle Charlie," earning acclaim with 2005's Charlie, Last Name Wilson and his first-ever solo Grammy nomination for his smash ballad, "There Goes My Baby," and the CD, Uncle Charlie, four years later.  2010 finds Mr.

An old show-biz saying posits that when all other life ends, there will still be cockroaches and Cher, and with what all Charlie Wilson has endured, maybe his name needs to be added too. It's been a long and jagged road for the performer, who enjoyed years of success as a member of the legendary funk and soul trio, The Gap Band, only to spiral into alcoholism, drug addiction, destitution and homelessness when they ended their run. Thanks to his influence on ---and frequent collaborations with---the younger generation (Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly and T-Pain, to name a few), Mr. Wilson eventually sobered up, regained his professional swagger and was reborn as cool cat number one, "Uncle Charlie," earning acclaim with 2005's Charlie, Last Name Wilson and his first-ever solo Grammy nomination for his smash ballad, "There Goes My Baby," and the CD, Uncle Charlie, four years later.  2010 finds Mr. Wilson still battling personal challenges (a diagnosis of prostate cancer, now in remission, and the deaths of his father and brother less than a year apart), and maybe it's that new reverence for life and love that makes his latest CD, Just Charlie,such an enjoyable one.

Another truism, ‘too many cooks spoil the soup,' categorized what diminished the appeal of 2008's Uncle Charlie, but the newest collection maximized the handful of sound providers (Greg Pagani, The Insomniax, Wirlie "Optimas Pryme" Morris) without cancelling out contributions from each. Mr. Wilson, who executive-produced Just....and co-wrote nine of the ten tracks, is still in rare form vocally, effortlessly gliding into songs like the string-laden, wedding-ready ballad "You Are," the tender tribute "Once And Forever" and a surprisingly nimble remake of the Roger Troutman smash, "I Wanna Be Your Man," which offers just a hint of Auto-Tune and a (too) brief duet with Fantasia. No other guest appearances are found here, but they frankly aren't needed or missed, thanks to infectious uptempos like the funk-fringed "Never Got Enough" and the stepper-ready "Life Of The Party," where he's relishing a night out on the town with his lady instead of making it rain or popping bottles in the VIP.  "I Can't Let Go" is a mid-tempo ode to the way his lady puts it on him, while the companion cut, "Where Would I Be," gives unabashed homage to how she helped to guide him through his stormiest days and darkest nights: "Baby where would I be, if there was no you/ tell me where would I fly, if you wasn't my sky?"

Overall, Just Charlie manages to be much more substantial than its predecessor, thanks to modern touches that don't overreach or irritate: "Lotto" compares winning the devotion of his woman with hitting the jackpot, but is still sweet and sincere; "My Girl is A Dime" enumerates the traits that keep him singing her praises ("That's what makes her beautiful, when I get out of line she lets me know/and she don't need no magazine, to help her build up her self-esteem"); and "Crying For You" displays self-awareness and  vulnerability: "Why can't we agree to disagree Girl, cuz' you need to be right here with me Girl/It's been too long, this house is not a home/and I need my queen to come and reclaim her throne."

When fate tosses out curveballs, resilient folks get on their grind, clear out the clutter and reassess what's important in life: from the sounds of the CD, Mr. Wilson has succeeded in doing that, retooling his signature sound and adding just enough contemporary flourishes to enhance it without overtaking what made him so popular in the first place. Guest appearances, red-hot producers and trendy style changes can be nice, but what keeps fans coming back is the fact that he's Just Charlie, a talented and tenacious soul survivor thriving long after others have disappeared from today's musical landscape. Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

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