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Album Review: Carl Thomas - "So Much Better"

'Better' Than Ever?

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

By

Album Review: Carl Thomas -

Album cover © Bungalow Records.

If Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and other legendary R&B artists of the past were still alive today, there's no doubt that they'd consider Carl Thomas to be a worthy successor to their legacy. Carl posesses a dignified, refined vocal style that may not generate a great deal of excitement, but is still miles ahead of many of the singers that top the contemporary music charts. And Carl's third album, So Much Better, is a flawed gem; the quality of songs varies somewhat - but overall, if you're a fan of traditional R&B, it's worth adding to your collection.

Classy, Not Trashy

Although Carl Thomas and R. Kelly share the same hometown - Chicago - and are R&B singers, the two couldn't be more different. Kelly's music is dipped in hip-hop and mired in over-the-top drama, but Thomas' style of music contains the type of sophistication and strong dignity that was typical of R&B singers in the 1960s and '70s but is increasingly rare in today's marketplace.

Although Kelly has had more hits and notoriety, Carl is doing fine, himself. And So Much Better, is a strong reminder that true artists don't need gimmicks or scandals or expensive videos to attract attention and sell albums, as long as they have one thing - singing talent. And Carl displays his nicely on most of the 19(!) tracks on the album, particularly the warm and inviting opening track "If I Could" and the sexy "Thought You Should Know" as well as "Oh No (You Can't Be Serious)," a reggae-tinged tale about being broken hearted; and "Can't Get Over," a song about still being in love with the person who broke your heart.

But as compelling as some songs on the album are, there are other tracks on So Much Better that find themselves dragged down by tepid song production, musical cliches, repetition and in one song's case, a fatal case of unsexiness (the booty-call song "Late Night Rendezvous" plus the remix of it featuring E-40). But despite the occasional potholes on the album, Carl and the singers who put in guest appearances on various tracks (Brandy, Dave Hollister, Lalah Hathaway) show and prove that smart, sophisticated R&B is still alive and kicking.

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