LET'S HEAR IT from the boys: Here's a sampler of new sounds from eight Soul Men.
LILLO THOMAS --
"Lillo" (Capitol 12450). Thomas is produced by Paul Lawrence, who puts the hits together for Freddie Jackson and who has tallied the most black hit singles this year. This LP could work similar wonders for Thomas, whose lightweight and flexible voice can curl or soar around a lyric. Lawrence supplies Thomas with a smart set of springy rhythms, and the result is sort of an air-whipped version of Cameo's funk, as Thomas brings passion to radio-ready stuff like "Sexy Girl" and the sugary snap-crackle pop of "Wanna Make Love (All Night Long)."
TYRONE BRUNSON --
"Love Triangle" (MCA 5968). Though this is nominally his album, Brunson is just an element in the mix on "Love Triangle." The real spotlight is on the producer, synth-maestro James Mtume, whose typically sensuous keyboard textures and continually surprising sound effects stretch out the so-so soul songs here. Brunson has a sturdy, memorable voice, but it is swept aside by the mathematical groove of the title tune and the electronic playpen of dance tracks like "Free Bee," which begins with "Pop Goes the Weasel" and lots of touchtone sounds.
L.J. REYNOLDS --
"Tell Me You Will" (Fantasy F-9654). Reynolds' warm voice sounds familiar -- he fronted the Dramatics for seven years and 15 albums -- and it's good to hear him again. Unfortunately, the tracks on his comeback are shaped by a keyboard player named Claytoven, whose techno-tyranny leaches the soul from many of these songs. The O'Jays lend support as background singers on the upbeat "Magic Love" and "Who's Loving You," and their presence helps tremendously. Reynolds fares far better on the more human-sounding ballads, where he can stretch out and sing instead of keeping up with Claytoven's microchip mayhem.
ROBERT BROOKINS --
"In the Night" (MCA 5824). Brookins' pleasantly husky voice and chunky funk grooves make him sound something like a tame Rick James. Though Brookins has the right vocal stuff to make an impression, he just doesn't have the songs. The first single "Come to Me" is a stale assemblage of synthesizer riffs, and "In the Night (Making Love)," a duet with Stephanie Mills, sports plenty of vocal style but too little substance.
MILES JAYE --
"Miles" (Island 90615). Jaye's of the Teddy Pendergrass "love man" mold, but his debut LP ventures beyond the boudoir beat. The singer/instrumentalist has assembled an impressive lineup of sidemen, including Branford Marsalis and Dexter Wansel, and several well-above-average songs, like "Let's Start Love Over" which opens with a tintinnabulation of bells and chimes and evolves into a smooth dance groove. Most of the songs, like "Lazy Love," are efficiently calculated make-out music, with Jaye's seductively gritty voice whispering insinuatingly in your ear.
"Tellin' It Like It Is" (Columbia 40859). Last time out, Richard "Dimples" Fields told it like it is with the witty hit single "She's Got Papers on Me." Fields has since moved to a major label, where he attempts to be everybody's everything. Though his songs offer a winning combination of humor and sensuality, Fields is musically all over the map. On "Stand Up on It," his sly voice is reminiscent of Michael Jackson's tremulous cooing, while the jittery rhythm borrows boldly from the Minneapolis bunch. And the record starts off with "Tell It Like It Is," billed as a tribute to Aaron Neville, but Fields ruins it by tacking on a craven cash-in copy of Oran "Juice" Jones' nasty rap.
JAMES ROBINSON --
"Guilty" (Tabu 40823). When you first hear Robinson's throaty soul voice, you might think of ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald's crushed velvet tones. But a few songs into the record, it's clear that this is what McDonald wishes he could sound like. Robinson exercises his vocal versatility over producer Fareed's silky electronic textures, and shows what he's capable of with an ear-melting cover of Stevie Wonder's "Seems So Long." Unfortunately, the majority of the sketchy songs aren't worth the mighty effort he expends on them.
JOHN WHITE --
"Night People" (Geffen 24152). White, a 22-year-old gospel-trained singer, sounds as if he's trying to be a male Anita Baker. But on songs like "I Need Your Love," he works too hard at it, and his overwrought delivery sounds uncomfortable with the very ordinary material. Saxman Najee contributes an airborne solo to "Don't Let It Be Too Late," but the charmless mechanical production by Rahni Song keeps White's first flight mostly earthbound.