Geno Young - Ear Hustler

Geno Young
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Geno Young is one of the most skilled and prolific producers in independent soul music today. Best known for rhapsodic productions that read like miniature ghetto symphonies, the Dallas-born and Howard University trained multi-instrumentalist dazzled listeners as a writer and producer on Badu's Mama's Gun, N'Dambi's Tunin' Up and Cosignin', and Carmen Rodgers' Free. On his 2004 debut, Young proved he is also an exceptional songwriter of depth with a knack for honest, relevant storytelling, if not always of commercial tunes. In the midst of words and sounds that beautifully unfold and enrapture what has quietly been Young's Achilles Heel is the relatively nondescript nature of his singing voice. On Ear Hustler, Young's engaging sophomore release, the best of Young is marvelously showcased, but what about that dang elephant in the room?

Geno Young is one of the most skilled and prolific producers in independent soul music today. Best known for rhapsodic productions that read like miniature ghetto symphonies, the Dallas-born and Howard University trained multi-instrumentalist dazzled listeners as a writer and producer on Badu's Mama's Gun, N'Dambi's Tunin' Up and Cosignin', and Carmen Rodgers' Free. On his 2004 debut, Young proved he is also an exceptional songwriter of depth with a knack for honest, relevant storytelling, if not always of commercial tunes. In the midst of words and sounds that beautifully unfold and enrapture what has quietly been Young's Achilles Heel is the relatively nondescript nature of his singing voice. On Ear Hustler, Young's engaging sophomore release, the best of Young is marvelously showcased, but what about that dang elephant in the room?

Heavily layered with reverb, Young's voice has gained a bit more character and learned to better mine subtlety to compensate for its limited versatility, as with the bluesy morality tale "The Other Side of Life." Young also deploys his finest funky background harmonies and arrangements, as with the Bilal meets PPP-flavored "Ear Hustle (Do It)." There are other times, particularly on the longer cuts, where the Young's monotone is not compelling enough to maintain listener attention despite some muscular swaggering to gorgeously ornate settings, as with "All I Have," "I Came To See," "Was It A Love Song" and "I Wish (She Was  My Girl)." "Shoulda" almost joined their frustrating ranks, but a surprisingly open chorus, dynamic accompaniment, and a glorious bridge that released into a cathartic two-step vamp lifts the song out of the druthers and into the pantheon of great Young compositions like Carmen Rodgers' "Dream" and Erykah Badu's "Orange Moon." Lightning strikes twice with the Broadway-esque, big budget revival number, "Condition," a jamming ‘70s guitar and organ groove with larger-than-life production elements that make it ripe for the stage, reminiscent of "Cadillac Car" from Dreamgirls. A streetlamp at midnight, Leon Ware/Marvin Gaye type arrangement  for "Gladys" rescues the banal lead vocals that merely glide over Young's otherwise encouraging lyrics, twice (there's a reprise).

So, what of that elephant? Well, on songs as well-constructed as the infectious mid-tempo cut "The One (I Gotcha)" or the tender ballad, "Crazy," you can't help but wonder how much more realized they would be in the hands of a more exciting vocalist. As a musician, composer, and producer, Geno Young is a master illustrator, pulling every bit of gleam out of the polished productions and delicious fatback out of the greasy urban portraits he paints. In these realms Young excels and has much worthwhile to say. Unfortunately, as a singer, the tunefulness and apparent vocal maturity still cannot fully mask -- at least for this reviewer -- one glaring fact: that Young's work is optimally presented when performed by other, more capable singers. This isn't so much a commentary on what Young lacks as a singer, he's decent enough to pass. It is more a commendation on how much more supreme his material is than the instrument leading it, and how rare work like this deserves the best to bring out its full potential, even if that means the best isn't Geno Young, singer. Recommended.  

By L. Michael Gipson

 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

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