Gordon Chambers - Sincere (2011)

Gordon Chambers
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A funny thing happens to men as they approach age 40.  For some it is the time of fear, of grasping to maintain their youth -- or a youth that they wished they had lived.  For others, it is a time to put away the trappings of childhood and to fully embrace their essence, whether it be in human relationships, in spirituality or in the meaning of their place in the world. The former is the nature of a mid-life "crisis" and the latter a true mid-life blossoming. 

A funny thing happens to men as they approach age 40.  For some it is the time of fear, of grasping to maintain their youth -- or a youth that they wished they had lived.  For others, it is a time to put away the trappings of childhood and to fully embrace their essence, whether it be in human relationships, in spirituality or in the meaning of their place in the world. The former is the nature of a mid-life "crisis" and the latter a true mid-life blossoming. 

There are elements of both on Sincere, the third solo album by Gordon Chambers, an immensely talented songwriter who just happens to also be a man of a certain age. More than a decade and a half after winning a Grammy Award for his composition "I Apologize" and seven years into his career as a solo singer, Chambers is in the unusual position of being considered an "A-Lister" in one category (songwriting) and a still-emerging artist in another (performing).  But it is not that dichotomy that comes to mind in listening to Sincere. Rather, most striking is the obvious struggle of an artist who is musically trying to hang with the kids with a noticeably edgier, younger sound, while lyrically embracing the self-awareness and wisdom that comes with age.  Sincere eschews the more organic sound of Chambers' earlier adult soul work for a more heavily produced, electronically icy aura while at the same time providing the most mature, engaging lyrical content of his long career.

The production on much of Sincere is handled by a group of up and coming young producers like Darien Dorsey, The BeatBanggahz and Blake Melodious, and their work bears a completely temporal sound that is generic in its detachment. So songs like "In the Band," "Moody Love" and the title track have the feel of what modern R&B singers were pitching to urban radio in 2009 and 2010, and Chambers appears more like a passenger than a driver on the ride. The mis-fit of those tracks -- which unfortunately dominate the album's first half -- is made even more obvious when compared to some of the simpler, less cluttered production work by Chambers himself that comes later.

Fortunately, two aspects of Sincere salvage the album and ultimately make it a success: First is the obvious continued development of Gordon Chambers as a singer.  Leon Russell's "A Song For You" has been recorded dozens of times by some of the most talented soul singers, but Chambers absolutely nails it vocally and, surprisingly, makes it his own.  Second is Chambers' honest storytelling, whether it is the baring of his weaknesses as he pleads for guidance on "Lead Me" or his poignant goodbye to friends Phyllis Hyman and Gerald Levert on "Missing You." 

Sequencing on Sincere doesn't do Chambers justice, with the weakest tracks being frontloaded. But for those listening to the album,my biggest recommendation is to be patient, because the production disconnects on the first half of the disc are more than rectified by a terrific second half, beginning with the tender "In My Room," the infectious, radio-ready hit, "I Can't Love You," and right through a series of solid tracks that finish with a live, Gospel-infused, piano driven spiritual, "Walk With Me." These latter songs demonstrate Gordon Chambers the experienced observer, providing a level of sincere reflection and transcendance that I'm not sure he could have matched when he was writing hits for stars in his early 20s, and bearing a sound that enhances rather than detracts from the lyrical messages.  They are also simply more balanced, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric songs that make the stretch of a half dozen tracks much more interesting.

We've known for years that Gordon Chambers could flat-out write and with Sincere he shows that he can flat-out sing, too. And while the direction of the first half of the disc is flawed, it is in the middle and at end that his vision, his stellar writing and his now impressive singing all come together, creating exactly the kind of album that his fans had been anticipating for the past four years.  And if Chambers embraces what works best on Sincere, it may create a launching pad for the next stage of his still developing singing career, as one of the most talented adult soul performers around.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

Gordon Chambers I Can't Love You ( If You Don't Love You) from jamon Lewis on Vimeo.

 

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