Two Soul Singers

Maxwell: smart
photo: Anthony Mandler
Maxwell: smart

Which is David's whole spectacularly won case on Born to Do It as well. It may be true that David and Hill's production on the album does high-impact things that U.S. hip-hop/soul makers like Timbaland have pulled off as or more impressively. But the Englishmen's stroke is to focus their silky streams of street beats and regal Yes riffs not with frantically new hip-hop fireworks, but rather with the timeless concentrations of Cecil and Linda Womack smoking through some old soul tune. With voices raging and caressing and rapping, synth figures barreling across beats that snake and hiss and rattle and roll on a song like "Can't Be Messing Around," the album is a masterpiece on tone alone. The songs are always easily literate and sometimes brilliantly allusive—why the hell shouldn'tDavid's "7 Days" refer to Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal's Jam-Lewis-produced "Saturday Love," especially given how the '80s smash is every synthbeat the equal of, say, Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," and especially given how David and Hill never get lost in jheri curls? But what pulls everything together isn't the production or the smarts; it's David's singing. His voice, a marvel of top-end energy and light, can go as fast as a BMW in the left lane on a European freeway or—as on the elegant rocker "Walking Away" that shows up on the album like a sweet dare—settle down and kick in as calmly as a slowly strummed guitar. David is, like Maxwell on Now, a great soul singer, period. No fashion deters him from his job.

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