Calvin Richardson - 2:35pm
Neo-soul, swingbeat, R&B...call it what you will but its success has forever appeared to be inversely proportional to what we've always known as soul. Years after their release, put a little Aretha, Otis or Isaac up against Jodeci, Whitney or Calvin Richardson and they'd tear them down. When Aretha, her voice putting a shock on the recording desk, rips out R-E-S-P-E-C-T!, you know there's both the church and the slums inside her. When Isaac Hayes asks, "Who's the man...", "Shaft!" is the only thing that's left to say and when Soul Brother Number One, James Brown, tells you he's gonna take it to the bridge, you'd best get out of his way.
But Calvin? Calvin ain't got much more than you or I. Born in North Carolina, Calvin Richardson came out of a southern gospel tradition - his mother ran a gospel group, The Willing Wonders - but it's hard to hear the fulsome praise of a Baptist choir in amongst these listless grooves.
R&B, thanks to the success of Usher and the like, will never again see the years in which a rich creative seam was mined at Motown, Stax and Atlantic. Still, there really is little excuse for music so barely-there as to be non-existent. Barring a rhythm track and the occasional strum of a guitar, 2:35PM conforms rigidly to the young male singer being handed lyrics such as, "Oooh baby...oooh baby I wanna hold you". Despite never really expecting social commentary, dazzling wordplay nor an inventive take on gospel, Richardson disappoints by showing through titles like She's Got The Love, Your Love Is and More Than A Woman that he is as much of a cliche as kids from the cities, both black and white, rapping tall tales about bitches and ho's.
Despite the occasional moment on 2:35PM - Keep On Pushin', the guitar that opens She's Got The Love - there's never a sparkle to the music on this album that other, slightly more daring artists, would have added. Alicia Keyes, for example, is not too dissimilar to Calvin Richardson but with her fluid playing of the piano, not to mention the occasional risk, both Songs In A Minor and The Diary Of... are great albums when held up against 2:35PM.
Elsewhere on this site, I have taken the time to celebrate the disco swirl of Barry White, who was a man as capable of any as showing love. More often, he'd show love where no love was deserved but with humour, joy and a glorious way with music, White sounded as though he strolled between the bedroom and the recording studio with nary a pause for breath.
Calvin Richardson, on the other hand, sounds all out of love already, writing trite lyrics because, as a young, black male with a history in gospel, it's what he's been expected to deliver. Sounding like he's never gone further than holding hands and with lyrics that wouldn't sound out of place on a Hallmark card, Richardson ought not to get back to the studio until he's gotten laid. Only then might we hear Richardson put some real soul into his soul music.