Kalvin Bishop is a talented singer who, for a young guy, has been in the background and on the fringe of stardom for some time. A Virginia native, Bishop grew up idolizing great 70s and 80s soul music stars such as Peabo Bryson, Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye.
Bishop's first break came in the early 90s when his four man group did an impromptu audition for Bobby Brown at a New York party, singing Debarge's "I Like It." Brown did indeed like it, and signed them to his Triple B label. Though the group never recorded for Triple B, Bishop got a gig singing background for Brown on Brown's 1992 album Bobby. Brown then helped Bishop form the male-female duo Smoothe Sylk, which released an album on MCA in 1994 (charting with the song "Slow") and toured with Whitney Houston in 1995 in support of her Bodyguard soundtrack album.
After a few years out of the limelight, in 2003 Bishop signed with Georgia-based Mokah Records and began work on his solo debut, Do What I Gotta Do. He also scored a coup by landing legendary bassist Keni Burke -- who started as part of the Five Stairsteps ("Ooh Child") and went on to work with many of the biggest stars of the 70s and 80s -- to produce the disc and co-write almost all of the cuts.
Do What I Gotta Do is an enjoyable album that really serves as a microcosm of what is both good and bad in much of modern soul music. Burke's influence is felt throughout the disc, with his generally tasty arrangements creating a nice groove but always keeping Bishop's voice upfront. And Bishop has a very pleasant, if unassuming, tenor voice (sort of a wispier Jesse Powell or Donell Jones), which is at its best when it is floating in and out of his appealing falsetto. While some of the album's cuts are fairly typical paint-by-numbers Neo Soul ("Tell Me It's Alright" and "I'll Show You How") the disc comes together well in the middle. "I've Been Working Hard All Day" is a nifty Isley Brothers-style ballad, and the steppers "Can I Be Your Lover" and "Party Tonight" are quite good (though the former is mucked up a bit by an out of place rap by Oz), as is the ethereal cut "I Got What You Want." By far the album's premier cut is "Over and Over Again," an 80s-style midtempo that Bishop absolutely nails with his light falsetto over Burke's restrained production. It will be at the top of my iPod playlist for awhile.
Now for the downside. Unfortunately, as appealing musically as much of Do What I Gotta Do is, it is stuck in the same lyrical rut as a number of current "soul men" albums. While many of the ladies are poetically knocking it out of the park, the men, including Bishop, are largely using tired "lover man" lyrics that were getting old when Keith Sweat was singing them 10 years ago, and that now appear to simply be a series of clichÃ©s strung together (with a double bonus if they rhyme with "making love"). It's too bad, because -- other than an ill-advised note-for-note cover of Stevie Wonder's "You and I" -- Do What I Gotta Do is musically a solid effort.
In the end, Kalvin Bishop has created a better than average debut, and one which shows he is an engaging singer who, with the right material (such as "Over and Over Again"), may be an artist to watch closely over the next few years. The challenge for him will be to create intelligent lyrical content worthy of the substantial vocal talent he brings.
By Chris Rizik