Some have likened him to the Prince of independent soul and dance music, a multi-instrumental child prodigy who played several instruments by age ten, Peven Everett has always been the underground's genius. Indie Soul God Eric Roberson may get all the glory, but Erro would be the first to tell you it was Everett's liberation journey that inspired him. And, why not? A 17-year old Berkelee College of Music drop-out, Everett landed at Carnegie Hall and got mentored by giants like Betty Carter and toured with both of the Marsalis brothers at an age when most were completing their SATs. Eighteen projects over the last 13 years, including nine official commercial releases, Everett lives up to his Prince comparisons in his prolificness, if not always in vocal consistency and appeal. Nonetheless, as any die-hard will tell you, any Everett release is a major music event deserving of serious attention. The remix version of Beyond The Universe is certainly worthy of a disco ball of spotlights.
On Beyond..., Everett once again proves he's one of those rare animals who actually can play the role of singer, writer, arranger, and producer of all of his own material, and do most of it well. No samples from old hip hop and R&B jams, just fresh beats and grooves. The tracks and their compositional progressions are the star here. On cuts like "Tonight, Tonight," Everett is at the height of his powers, with trademark layered vocals, deft electric guitar solos, and just enough of a rhythmic groove to move your body (the Wonder Woman sound effect helps a bit too). "Poppin'" is a sexy jumper with cooing female doubles and a Bernard Edwards bass that brings back memories of those old industrial house days when boot-strapped dancers aerobicized on concrete floors as much as they danced. "Girl of My Dreams" is another keeper that reminds one of Ten City jams or Larry Levan's Paradise Garage for listeners of a certain age. "Girl" along with the aptly titled "Burning Hot" are among the few cuts were Everett's voice is completely in the pocket, making these top-notch jam a joyful noise from beginning to end. "Soul Parade," a horn-driven groove that sneakily slips in a new instrument every four or so bars until it's so full and infectious that Peven's vocals are more distraction than additive.
Which brings us to some of the weaknesses in Beyond The Universe, particularly one that is often hit or miss in the Everett catalog and that's the acquired taste of Everett's pop voice. At times a modestly heavier toned Raphael Saadiq that is listenable, Everett can be positively scratchy in tone and wavering in pitch to the point of annoyance, depending on the recording. "If I Can't See You Tonight" is almost amateurish in execution, especially the painfully juvenile vocal. The hot to death music on "I Need You" works up until the point Everett tries for higher notes, causing an audible strain for him and the listener. An avant-garde cut for the art and hipster crowd, the disjointed elements of "Screwed Man" never quite come together-from the leads to the experimental funk track.
Peven Everett is deserving of many of his accolades. In output alone, he is a force to be reckoned with. Few competent multi-instrumental talents exist in the underground. Fewer still that understand how to make contemporary dance music that appeals to both young and old alike in the way that appears second nature to the genius. His vocals, however, too often undermine and distract from his greatest musical achievements, this project being among them. While few of these remixes by Timmy Regisford & Adam Rios' fail to deliver a good time, it's clear that a great time could have been had by all throughout this project and, indeed with most of Everett's catalog, if as much care was given to the vocals as the soundscape Everett's pipes play in. Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson