Az Yet - She's Magic (2016)

Az Yet
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Az Yet - She's Magic

Az Yet showed promise as a classy R&B vocal group of a new breed upon the release of its 1996 self-titled debut album on LaFace Records. But after scoring big with both pop and soul listeners via the intensely romantic “Last Night” and an endearing remake of Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (featuring original vocalist/co-writer Peter Cetera), member shuffling and label issues ultimately put a halt to follow-up activity. With the exception of a single and EP in the early 2000s, the guys have remained relatively quiet on the recording front—while continuing to perform in varying configurations. Now, three of the five present on the debut—Marc Nelson, Kenny Terry, and Dion Allen (along with another founding member, Claude Thomas)—have reconvened for a second full-length set, She’s Magic.

Az Yet - She's Magic

Az Yet showed promise as a classy R&B vocal group of a new breed upon the release of its 1996 self-titled debut album on LaFace Records. But after scoring big with both pop and soul listeners via the intensely romantic “Last Night” and an endearing remake of Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (featuring original vocalist/co-writer Peter Cetera), member shuffling and label issues ultimately put a halt to follow-up activity. With the exception of a single and EP in the early 2000s, the guys have remained relatively quiet on the recording front—while continuing to perform in varying configurations. Now, three of the five present on the debut—Marc Nelson, Kenny Terry, and Dion Allen (along with another founding member, Claude Thomas)—have reconvened for a second full-length set, She’s Magic.

20 years is more than a lifetime in music-industry years, but Az Yet comes to the table with material and delivery bearing both relevance and substance on She’s Magic. While not necessarily breaking new musical ground, the group cleverly has found a way to preserve the subtle vocal sophistication it established back in the mid-‘90s and imbue it with mature lyrics which will appeal to both its loyal fanbase and new recruits. A chief example is the assured “Young Girl,” which explores the supposed advantages that a lady inexperienced in love will enjoy with a more seasoned “older man.” Although slightly hubristic (“I can make a woman out of you, just follow everything that I do”), the story unfolds slowly and seductively atop a mood-setting quiet-storm arrangement. On a similar plane, the romantic “Real Man” charms in a less presumptuous manner and also incorporates some contemporary rhythmic elements that complement the vibe.

As with its debut album, Az Yet keeps the pace cool and the atmosphere smooth throughout, from the opening title cut to the closing rendition of Brian McKnight’s “One Last Cry.” While the harmonies are not always as distinguished as one would hope (several tracks seem to feature just one or two members for their durations), the performances are continuously cultivated and reflective. Listening to the set as a whole, there is never a hint of hurry or compromise in the guys’ vocals. “Love Her Mind” has a familiar old-school sensibility to it, yet is thoughtful and refreshing. Furthermore, Marc Nelson’s co-lead here shows he hasn’t lost any of his earnest soul prowess in the decade since his last solo release.

Several remakes appear on She’s Magic: the aforementioned “One Last Cry,” Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose,” and a re-recording of “Last Night.” Both “One Last Cry” and “Kiss from a Rose” are performed a cappella, a treatment which works particularly well on the latter. The bass, baritone, and tenor tones are all vibrant and full, embedding a vulnerable charm into the song’s soul-searching words. “One Last Cry,” which is relatively close in feel to the original McKnight version, is also pleasing, but the new cut of “Last Night” is a bit tepid. Trying to emulate the original production of Babyface and Mervyn Warren is a lost cause; still, the guys attempt to replicate their signature hit with the same nuances that made it successful. It’s the only moment on the album that comes off as a tad inauthentic.

She’s Magic is an unassuming, refreshingly unpretentious collection of tunes performed with impressive aplomb and sensitivity. Az Yet has accomplished the commendable task of revisiting the distinctive refinement employed on its first album without being obvious. Though the production quality may not be on quite the same scale, it is wisely understated and doesn’t deter from the enjoyment of the quality songs presented (apart from the new version of “Last Night”). Listeners expecting to find pure nostalgia may be pleasantly surprised by the eloquent attributes of the repertoire and the cool comportment with which it is delivered. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 
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