HOW DOES the cliche go? It's the singer, not the song. New albums by Jeffrey Osborne and Patrice Rushen suggest the old truisms can't always be trusted. Jeffrey Osborne, the former lead singer for LTD, launched a solo career with last year's soaring ballad "On the Wings of Love," which was quickly appropriated by a major airline for its commercials. But Osborne's latest album, "Don't Stop," finds the singer grounded.
It's a failure of judgment, not talent. Osborne is terrific in concert, a fine interpreter with a big, throaty voice. But in this anemic collection of iron-poor melodies, he has little to work with, and tries to make up for the melodic shortcomings by piling on the histrionics. And the lyrics, many of them self-penned, are awkward and embarrassingly sophomoric.
Producer George Duke, whose specialty is a clinically clean sound that seems untouched by human hands, has filled every space between the notes with an electronic gimmick. But it's all effect and no affection -- even the shiniest production can't save soulless soul.
Patrice Rushen has switched from serious jazz pianist to the more profitable pop/dance arena. With its playful touch and attention to melody, Rushen's delightful "Now," her second pop LP, is the polar opposite of Osborne's sodden effort.
Rushen is not a born singer, but her slight, whispery voice, so like Syreeta Wright's, has a silky charm and is often pleasingly multi-tracked in layers, like puff pastry, on such songs as the hit "Feels So Real (Can't Let Go)." Her improvisational background is obvious, as she comes up with a solid set of fresh, hummable tunes.
Impressively and intelligently under-produced by Rushen and Charles Sims Jr., "Now" stands out among the pile of overblown black pop. Airy, spacious arrangements of shimmering keyboards and thumbslapping bass leave plenty of room for Rushen's cooing. Unfortunately, the old couldn'd resist using the inescapable handclap machine on most of the tracks.