All-4-One - Twenty+ (2015)

All-4-One
all-4-one-20.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

It's a shame that the quartet All-4-One saw its commercial success wane at the same time that the quartet was just finding its creative legs. So, while the record buying public knew them as a tightly harmonizing group that covered mostly pop songs written and produced by others, such as "So Much In Love" and the historic smash "I Swear," that same public was on to the next act before hearing Jamie Jones, Delious Kennedy, Tony Borowiak and Alfred Nevarez come into their own as original artists. Jones, in particular, grew into a top-notch songwriter, and by the time of 2009's No Regrets, the metamorphosis of All-4-One from light pop interpreters to a well rounded, self-directed soulful pop group was completeAnd the creative place found on that album continues impressively on the celebration of two decades as a recording group, the new, expansive release Twenty+.

It's a shame that the quartet All-4-One saw its commercial success wane at the same time that the quartet was just finding its creative legs. So, while the record buying public knew them as a tightly harmonizing group that covered mostly pop songs written and produced by others, such as "So Much In Love" and the historic smash "I Swear," that same public was on to the next act before hearing Jamie Jones, Delious Kennedy, Tony Borowiak and Alfred Nevarez come into their own as original artists. Jones, in particular, grew into a top-notch songwriter, and by the time of 2009's No Regrets, the metamorphosis of All-4-One from light pop interpreters to a well rounded, self-directed soulful pop group was completeAnd the creative place found on that album continues impressively on the celebration of two decades as a recording group, the new, expansive release Twenty+.

The twenty song CD serves two purposes: it presents a brief look back, with well performed, chilled-out newly recordings of the five biggest All-4-One ballad hits (unfortunately, also included is a remake of the lurid "[She's Got] Skillz," which is as awkwardly out of place here as it was in the 90s), and unwraps 14 mostly self-penned new songs that play to All-4-One's vocal and stylistic strengths.

The new tracks on Twenty+ fit into several bunched categories, and they all work. All-4-One has always drawn camparisons to classic doo-wop groups of the 60s, and they comfortably embrace those references on the a cappella "Save It All 4 Me" and the album's first single, Matt Wong's "Baby Love," a gloriously upbeat number that recalls the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." There's also a clear stab at urban adult contemporary radio, principally via the bouncy cover of Bernard Wright's hit, "Who Do You Love," which works quite well despite the somewhat contrived, obligatory rap guest appearance by Rob Young. But as good as that song is, radio would be better served by jumping on either the fun, upbeat "Say What You Want To," or the collab with fellow 90s star Shanice and "Dance With Me" singer Debelah Morgan, "Go To Bed," a moody, electronic midtempo with terrific vocal interplay.

Of course, All-4-One's fan base was built on big, full-bodied ballads, and Twenty+ has handful of memorable new ones, all featuring the group's normal back-and-forth leads between Jones and Kennedy. The beautiful, ethereal "Chariots," the slow jamming "I Won't Let You Down" and "Now That We're Together" recall some of the best David Foster-produced love songs of the group's halcyon days. These songs also reveal a current truth: All-4-One sounds every bit as good as -- and maybe even better than -- twenty years ago. It is tough to say strong vocal performances by All-4-One are a surprise, but Jones opens up to a rare, full blow on "Life At All," and Kennedy simply masters everything he touches, reminding me (yet again) that he is one of the most underrated baritones in popular music.

It's unclear whether the time away from the spotlight has simply been too long for All-4-One to have meaningful album sales in 2015 (particularly in the US). But kudos to them for delivering another album that shows that No Regrets was no fluke. Nearly two decades after their commercial peak, they are more the real deal than ever, a group that delivers what adult soul music fans regularly say they want and what modern radio typically doesn't deliver: Melodic songs, generally positive messages and strong, intricate vocal performances. Whether or not they reach those audiences through traditional mass media or through emerging avenues of internet, streaming and mobile, Twenty+ reminds us all All-4-One deserves to be heard...again. Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

 

 

 
Featured Album - Will Downing - "Romantique, Part 1"
Featured Album - The Soul Rebels - "Poetry In Motion"
Album of the Month - Plunky & Oneness - "Afroclectic"
Choice Cut - Chris Jasper - "For The Love of You"

Leave a comment!