In today’s galaxy of entertainment - at least in current R&B scene - the brightest are the solo stars rather than the constellations. But just under three decades ago, soul music was dominated by hit-making performers who were also family. It only seems like yesterday that car speakers, skating rinks and house parties resonated with music by The Sylvers, The DeBarges, The Jones Girls, Sister Sledge, The Jets, The Jacksons…and Levert.
With their father, Eddie Levert, already in the mix as the front man of Ohio’s The O’Jays, it was probably assumed that at least one child in his lineage would follow in his mighty, mighty footsteps. So few were surprised by his sons, Sean and Gerald, doing just that. Joined by a childhood buddy, Marc Gordon, the trio named themselves Levert and became, eventually, one of the successful groups of their era. All of them knew how to harmonize, Sean’s voice offered the sweetness, and Gerald’s timbre was a sleeker version of his father’s blustering baritone, a sound that sold millions of albums and anchors a brand new two-disc collection entitled Family Reunion: Anthology.
A set that’s as inclusive as it is overdue, Family Reunion is thirty-two tracks long, two generations wide and chock-full of choice songs from each, whether in the group setting or without. Most if not all of the selections will be familiar to the over-30 set, thanks to archetypal numbers like “Just Coolin’,” “Addicted To You,” “Baby I’m Ready” and their breakout smash, “(Pop Pop Pop) Goes My Mind.” The crisp remastering and inclusion of radio-friendly remixes will bring back memories, but hearing the artistry of the late brothers once again (Gerald in 2006 the younger Sean in 2008) will create bittersweet memories as well as dance moves and sing-alongs.
In addition to Sean’s solo moments (“Same One,” “Put Your Body Where Your Mouth Is”) and a handful of numbers helmed by father Eddie and sons, Gerald’s also-successful solo career is well-represented. Over a dozen of Anthology’s contributions originated from his ten solo albums and one posthumous collection of duets (“That’s What Love Is,” the torch ballad duet with Miki Howard, “Baby Hold On To Me” with father Eddie). Access to the fan favorites that pulled deeper from Gerald’s catalog, such as “Mr. Too Damn Good” or “Funny,” remain on the original vinyl/CDs, but the addition of radio-remixed versions of “Private Line,” “School Me,” “Can’t Help Myself” and the angst-ridden “Soap Opera” version of “Taking Everything” still make Anthology worth the download.
Family Reunion, just like the event (and O’Jays song) it was named for, encompasses the beloved (“All Seasons”) the distant (“Fascination”), the revered (“Wind Beneath The Wings”) and yes, even the ones you could well go without (take your pick). If you’re under 30 and have no memory of the Leverts, don’t worry -- just like the other groups, a Gen Xer in your circle will add it to the playlist and make their music a part of your lexicon. Not that you’ll mind, however…by then, the Leverts will feel, and sound, like coming home. Highly Recommended.
By Melody Charles