Jeffrey Osborne: From the Soul

Veteran smooth-jazz/R&B vocalist Jeffrey Osborne joins the rush of contemporary artists covering their favorite songs, joining recent efforts by Kirk Whalum, Rick Braun and Eric Marienthal. It’s typically a savvy move, especially for artists who may have peaked and are struggling to make fresh music that casual fans will pay attention to–but they may listen to Osborne’s glowing vocals wrapped around such classics as “Yes, I’m Ready,” “All at Once” and “Hey Girl.” Osborne’s selections have the advantage of time-tested melodies sounding fresh with clean and crisp production, thanks to smooth-jazz hit-maker Paul Brown.

Two great choices are quintessential 1960s anthems, Curtis Mayfield’s gospel-cum-protest song “People Get Ready” and Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” The latter selection is probably due to Brown’s hippie-leaning influences, and it’s great to hear a soul singer pouring himself into a song that’s not his usual his style. Then again, it’s 2005 and there’s much to protest, right?

Osborne really nails it with the Roberta Flack-associated “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” its swaying melody augmented by Latin-lite percussion, and with Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” Osborne’s rich vocals turn the sunny tune even brighter.