Peabo Bryson - Missing You (2007)

Peabo Bryson
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Arguably rivaled only by Luther Vandross as the greatest pure soul singer of his generation, Peabo Bryson has fashioned a career out of making just about any song sound at least tolerable, and making truly meritorious compositions sound fantastic.  That deep, soulfully operatic voice has carried him through some marvelous albums in the late 70s and early 80s, through a relatively lean decade of lesser material thereafter, into a period as the guest singer du jour on compilations, movie soundtracks and duets, and most recently as the leading purveyor of old school soul on infomercials.  And while he's certainly had wonderful moments over the past two decades (there weren't many greater ballads in the 90s than his "Can You Stop the Rain"), he hasn't really issued an essential release since 1981's I Am Love.

Arguably rivaled only by Luther Vandross as the greatest pure soul singer of his generation, Peabo Bryson has fashioned a career out of making just about any song sound at least tolerable, and making truly meritorious compositions sound fantastic.  That deep, soulfully operatic voice has carried him through some marvelous albums in the late 70s and early 80s, through a relatively lean decade of lesser material thereafter, into a period as the guest singer du jour on compilations, movie soundtracks and duets, and most recently as the leading purveyor of old school soul on infomercials.  And while he's certainly had wonderful moments over the past two decades (there weren't many greater ballads in the 90s than his "Can You Stop the Rain"), he hasn't really issued an essential release since 1981's I Am Love.

Despite the uneven quality of his 80s and 90s output, a new Peabo album always brings surprisingly strong anticipation.  Pop and Soul music fans know what that voice is capable of, and so there is always the hope that it will be matched with equally memorable songs and production.  But too often -- especially since topping the charts with back-to-back Disney movie themes in the 90s -- Peabo has settled for relatively bland projects, filled with mediocre pop ballads and absent the mildly funky, sexy edge of his 70s work.  His singing made even the worst of these projects listenable, but few were worthy of what he brought vocally.

So I had only tempered anticipation for his first studio album of the 21st Century, the new Missing You on Peak Records.  Part of my hesitation was Peabo's unexciting 90s output and part was his pairing on the disc with Barry Eastmond, an immensely talented pianist and producer who shares the same occasional weakness as Bryson for bland MOR material and arrangements.  And the forgettably generic first cut, "Heavenly," didn't make me feel any better.  If that was the opener, what could be left?  Fortunately, better stuff.  Former All-4-One lead Jamie Jones and his Heavyweights crew immediately outshine the opening cut, infusing a much needed contemporary feel on the fine ballad, "Count On Me," and Bryson himself takes the production lead on the pretty wedding ballad "I Promise I Do."  But best of all are two notable outside contributions: the gorgeous Norman Connors production, "Don't Make Me Cry" (originally part of the 2005 Cafe Soul All-Stars compilation), and the Ledisi/Sundra-composed title track (with Eastmond shining on the keys).  The latter part of Missing You slips a bit -- especially on a disappointing cover of Angela Bofill's "I Try" (a rare case of oversinging by the usually nuanced Bryson) -- but recovers somewhat for the closing ballad, "My Last Goodbye."

Now into his mid-50s, Peabo Bryson still possesses an incredible vocal gift.  And while Missing You isn't the critical breakthrough album his fans have been waiting for for years, it does have enough spots of Peabo-magic to make it a worthy return for a singer with few vocal peers. 

By Chris Rizik 

 

 
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