Last year, the awesome success of K-Ci and JoJo's single "All My Life" surprised nearly everyone, including brothers K-Ci and JoJo Hailey, the former Jodeci front men who've just released "It's Real" (MCA). Culled from "Love Always," their debut album as a duo, "All My Life" wasn't intended as a single. K-Ci doesn't even sing on it. But in a story straight out of pop mythology, one radio deejay began playing the song, others followed, and pretty soon K-Ci and JoJo had themselves a No. 1 pop hit.
According to formula, the Hailey brothers should've gotten the biggest names in pop and R&B to help write and produce their follow-up album. But instead they took the same low-key approach that made "Love Always" such a humble surprise. And with "It's Real," they've again produced a solid soul winner.
"It's Real" doesn't try to dazzle with the latest hip-hop samples and frantic triple-time beats. Rather, each song provides a simple soul backing for the brothers' contrasting vocal strengths. While JoJo croons with a glistening pop sheen, K-Ci rages like a battle-scarred warrior with a voice as coarse as gravel and as raw as a sore.
K-Ci's performances on "Fee Fie Foe Fum" and "Makin' Me Say Goodbye" bring to mind a gamut of sounds: blues shouts, chain gang chants, sanctified hollers and the secular moans of soul men Al Green and Bobby Womack. But these aren't the brothers' only influences. "Hello Darlin' " and the new single "Tell Me It's Real" recall the cool pop harmonies of the Eagles and Chicago, respectively.
Lyrically, the former bad boys from Jodeci are once again keeping it clean. And unlike R. Kelly, who wrote and produced their chilling imprisonment ode "Life," K-Ci and JoJo don't boast of super-lover prowess or offer melismatic apologies to some poor woman they've done wrong. On many songs, they even sing of being cheated on by women who go to work with lacy nightgowns and come home smelling of another man's cologne. And while this image doesn't quite jell with their widely reported Jodeci exploits, the impassioned vocals compel you to believe.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
CAPTION: K-Ci and JoJo Hailey, keeping it clean on "It's Real."