Here's a taste of the new ones from five solo soul men:
HIGH CRIME -- Al Jarreau (Warner Bros. 9 25106-1). A more apt title might have been "High Gloss." Jarreau, the Man of a Thousand Voices, puts more personality in a pop tune than most of the competition, and in this technically perfect pop package, he's abandoned almost all of his jazz-esque scatting tendencies and has gone for AM gold. The eclectic and varied tunes include an outstanding ballad ("After All") and more uptempo danceable stuff ("Sticky Wicket," "High Crime") than usual. The crystalline arrangements are almost entirely synthetic, and Jarreau and producer Jay Graydon coax some novel sounds and strong rhythms from a catalogue of electronic percussion, with Jarreau matching every effect with something from his own arsenal of vocal tricks.
CHINESE WALL -- Philip Bailey (Columbia FC 39542). The spirit of Earth, Wind and Fire goes one step beyond on his second solo effort, guided masterfully by Phil Collins, who can't seem to make a misstep these days. Bailey's falsetto soars ethereally (and sometimes scrapes earthily) over Collins' glistening wall of exotic percussion and electronic textures, from the inescapable and irresistible hit "Easy Lover" to the otherworldly title track.
20/20 -- George Benson (Warner Bros. 25178-1). No surprises here -- Benson wears more eye makeup on the cover than last time out, and sinks even deeper into the sweet, soft marshmallow mix. Obviously the guitar man has been listening to the radio: Much of this homogenized product bears a marked resemblance to Shalamar's sophisticated sheen. And speeded up almost beyond recognition, Benson's vocals come closer to those of Shalamar's Howard Hewitt than his usual Stevie Wonder-ish stylings. This stamped-out stuff sells -- Benson can afford the cream of L.A.'s studio slickers: Patti Austin, Michael Sembello, Womack and Womack, Ralph MacDonald. But the bell-like tones of Benson's guitar are little in evidence in the overfed, synth- smothered sound.
EUGENE WILDE -- Eugene Wilde (Philly World 7 90239-1). Wait a second -- is this the George Benson album again? Newcomer Wilde often sounds more like Benson than Benson himself -- same bullish way with a ballad, similar smooth baritone, but more earthy and energetic. And the beats don't sound like they were created in committee. Though the first single, "Gotta Get You Home Tonight," is a standard-make "on the make" number, the rest excel, especially the old-fashioned, close- harmony ballad "Rainbow."
FINESSE -- Glenn Jones (RCA NFL1-8036). Jones is an undeniably strong singer, but on this undistinguished and uninvolving set of generic soul, he nicks his licks from Michael McDonald and Kashif instead of creating his own stamp. The main problem seems to be in the formulaic songs -- besides the soggy ballad "Show Me," there's the one about everlasting love ("Everlasting Love") and the perfunctory party song with the obligatory crowd sound effects ("On The Floor").