Sleepy Brown insists he is soul. He tells you so for more than five minutes on the conveniently titled "I'm Soul," leadoff track to his much delayed solo debut, Mr. Brown. The slim crooner is best known as OutKast's go-to guest vocalist, as well as for his tenure with Organized Noize, a production team responsible for some of Atlanta's best grooves that don't necessarily incite elbow throwing or pole dancing. Brown needs all this well-earned respect, unfortunately, because even though his arrangements and slum-beautiful tracks are sublime, his vocal abilities leave much to be desiredhe barely outpaces hip-hop cackler Pharrell on the Neptunes-produced congas-meets-synth tango "Margarita." Nonetheless, as he slides from such danceable numbers to sultry rides like "Dress Up," it's evident Brown holds versatile soul masterpieceslike, say, Marvin Gaye's I Want Youclose to heart. Looking like a tall Isaac Hayes, he makes up for his vocal deficiencies with the sheer coolness of his delivery. Whether it's the ultra-hip swagger of the regal "Me, My Baby, My Cadillac" or the seductive banter of "Till (Your Legs Start Shaking)," Brown cooks up earth-toned background music equally apropos for tidying up the crib or prowling for the late-night creep.
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