Like Lionel Richie, Peabo Bryson is much more a pop singer than a soul singer. He also has a buttery tenor that croons smoothly through self-penned romantic melodramas. With his touches of grainy funk, Bryson is not quite as cloying as Richie, but suffers from the same sentimentality.

With his latest album, "Don't Play With Fire," Bryson has again written, arranged and produced all the songs himself, all sticking close to pop-soul formulas.

Half the album's eight cuts are syrupy ballads squeezed for every last tear. He shows off his resonant voice, but as though he's giving his lover a line, not opening his heart. Up-tempo songs like "Go For It" and "Turn It On" are flat imitations of the Gap Band and Earth, Wind and Fire.

The album's one outstanding performance is the mid-tempo title cut, where Bryson sounds like Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. Over a catchy, sprung rhythm, he drops the crooning and gives just the right grainy, wistful touch to the warning: "Don't play with fire."

y Evelyn King was 17 when she sang the disco smash "Shame" in 1977. Then, she had a lightweight, pretty voice with no style that might interfere with her producers' designs. Her fifth album, "Get Loose," still shows no personal style instinct for a song; she remains a fluffy pawn.

In fact, King never does "Get Loose." Like an insecure actress following stage directions, King sticks to the mechanical rhythm tracks; there's no improvisation or interpretation. You wonder if there's a wind-up key in King's back. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUMS PEABO BRYSON -- Don't Play With Fire (Capitol ST-12241). EVELYN KING -- Get Loose (RCA AFL 1-4337). THE SHOW PEABO BRYSON and EVELYN KING Saturday at 8 at Constitution Hall.