Eighties’ heartthrob, master vocalist and a fine songsmith, Jeffrey Osborne has a very special gift for fans, A Time For Love (SSR Records). His newest since 2005’s Yes, I’m Ready,
it’s a winning note on which listeners who’ve always enjoyed this premiere performer will eagerly welcome him back.
In addition to Osborne still being in top form, A Time For Love has going for it that he’s reunited with renowned producer-keyboardist-arranger George Duke (Jeffrey Osborne, Stay With Me Tonight, Don’t Stop). The illustrious combination still gets the job done. Beautifully.
This album is a collection of jazz standards like “The Shadow of Your Smile,” the timeless Nat “King” Cole classic “Nature Boy,” and “What a Wonderful World,” with some pop staples thrown in, i.e., “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” and “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” along with the dusty chestnut “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” done as a duet with Chaka Khan. Most music lovers won’t recognize the name outside longtime readers of liner notes, but a splendid inclusion is bassist Christian McBride who, at one point or another, has accompanied just about everyone under the sun: from Freddie Hubbard to Carly Simon to Queen Latifah and back.
Osborne’s captivating baritone is rich as ever, even, in fact, subtler, as he pulls out a palette of shaded colors to give the songs— each of them old as the hills — freshly seductive vitality. James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” gets a marvelously nuanced reading, starting with its sparse, sweetly arranged intro, which is a tad more upbeat than the original.
When Osborne hits the bridge, one of Taylor’s best songwriting moments, he truly makes the song his own, taking that highly emotive space to an unexpected, smoothly understated place. It closes with him simply going for it, phrasing and letting the chips fall where they may. Which they do in ear-friendly fashion. No surprise as one thing Jeffrey Osborne has always been able to do is expertly bend a melody to the frame of mind at hand.
It is hard for even the best singers to follow Nat Cole. Osborne and Duke came up with a sma
rt approach. Don’t try to out-master a jazz master; just deliver the vocal in your own R&B ballad style and let the arranger sweeten up the backdrop. Accordingly, between Jeffrey Osborne’s velvet vocal and George Duke’s gorgeous aesthetic, this is an aural tapestry of the first order.
However, nothing’s perfect. On “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” for all that Chaka Khan is legendary for her fantastic funk, rock, and soul vocals, she’s clumsy as a clubfoot here, and really has no business trying to sing jazz.
Ultimately, Jeffrey Osborne brings home a winner. If A Time For Love has one cut that highly recommends the whole album, it’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” featuring Rick Braun on trumpet. It’s a silky strut, accentuated by McBride’s hint of funk that, carried home by Osborne’s ingenious vocalizing, reminds you that, as the saying goes, they don’t make music like this anymore.
Whether you’re a faithful old-time fan, recently came across him, or are just finding out who Jeffrey Osborne is, get A Time For Love, because you’ll dig this one.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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