Stacy Lattisaw and The Reddings, Washington's teen titans of pop music, can now officially welcome Johnny Gill into their ranks.
Gill, a classmate of Lattisaw's at Sousa Junior High School, may soon be rivaling Lattisaw's success. Gill's recording of "Superlove" has just broken through the Top 40 barrier on Billboard's Black Singles chart, and bigger things clearly await him if he can fulfill the promise of his debut album--"Johnny Gill" (Cotillion 7 90103-1).
Matching Gill's voice with his face initially may prove difficult for listeners; most of the time, he doesn't sound anything like a 16-year-old. In fact, there are moments when it sounds as if Gill has been singing soul music for at least as long as he's been alive.
Ironically, "Superlove" isn't one of those moments. Although fashionably cocky, it doesn't begin to suggest the vocal assurance on the Sam and Dave hit "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." Although it's not unusual for teen-age vocalists to sing songs that require an emotional depth beyond their experience, the results almost invariably sound precocious or preposterous. Gill, however, seldom sounds less than convincing.
Throughout the album, his voice moves confidently between a gritty baritone and a sweet tenor, a range that allows him to handle both the sturdy Stax soul of Sam and Dave and a lightly romantic Lionel Richie-esque ballad such as "You."
Lattisaw apparently played a key role in helping Gill obtain a recording contract, but much of the success of the album can be attributed to producer Freddie Perren. A graduate of Howard University and someone who has had considerable commercial success (producing the Spinners and the early Jackson 5, among others), Perren came up with just the right balance of material: a combination of thoroughly danceable and easily programmable pop tunes that should win Gill plenty of exposure and a variety of ballads that display the singer's extraordinary maturity. It all adds up to a most impressive debut.
As for Lattisaw, her new album, "Sixteen" (Cotillion 7 90106-1), jettisons some of the electronic gimmickry heard on her last record in favor of a slightly more sophisticated and streamlined approach.
The cover art suggests that, in some ways at least, the album can be viewed as a contemporary rite of passage. On the front of the album, Lattisaw looks twice her age, cool and coiffed, applying blushing pink lipstick to a sultry pout; on the back, she's herself--a full-faced, guileless teen-ager. But, at best, the metamorphosis is incomplete.
At the controls, as always, is producer, drummer and songwriter Narada Michael Walden. Walden has carefully groomed Lattisaw for commercial success, and he has obviously spent considerable time writing material specifically for her. Unfortunately, his efforts, while ever trendy, have grown increasingly predictable. Despite the presence of Kathy Sledge, Angela Bofill and David Sancious' sweeping synthesizers, "Sixteen" holds precious few surprises.
For one thing, Lattisaw is still much more adept at singing uptempo tunes, where Walden's slick production tends to complement her sassy and still quite girlish vocals. Unlike Gill, Lattisaw can still make matters of the heart sound as inconsequential as puppy love. Only time, not makeup, will cure that. Interpretive skill, however, has little bearing on the success or failure of The Reddings' new album, "Back to Basics" (Believe in a Dream FZ 38690). Words are purely subservient to the beat. Apart from a couple of expansively arranged ballads, "Basics" is one long, unrelenting dance groove. The Reddings aim straight for the feet, no higher.
As a result, anyone looking for a repeat of the trio's surprisingly moving version of "Dock of the Bay" on their last release will likely be disappointed by this one. But, conversely, fans of the group's funkier side may soon wear out their dancing shoes.
Erotic-roll a la Prince seems to have crept into the Reddings' musical consciousness of late, but it's one of the few things on the album that manifests itself in subtle ways. Mostly, "Basics" sets out to entice dancers by creating an all-encompassing blend of synthesized dance music and throbbing rhythms. At times the music is as inviting as the electronic squall emanating from a video game parlor, but if you are in the mood to dance, the Reddings can be most persuasive.
Bass guitarist Tyrone Brunson recorded his album "Sticky Situation" (Believe in a Dream FZ 38140) at the same studio as The Reddings--Washington's Rm 10 Recording Studios--so it's possible he was infected with The Reddings' enthusiasm for dance music. But more likely, he came by it naturally, since this Washingtonian is clearly more indebted to George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic than the comparatively subdued Reddings.
Brunson's vision isn't particularly original, and it's even dated in some respects, but he pursues the beat religiously and often injects enough humor to keep this rhythmic vigil interesting.