Five decades into a genre-crossing career, Jeffrey Osborne offers his first album of original material in 15 years on Worth It All. The richly deep-toned vocalist started out on the drum set during his teenage years, but by the time he joined then-simmering soul outfit L.T.D. in the early ‘70s, the way was paved for his dynamic pipes to shine on. The six-year recording period which saw him lead the band’s classics “Love Ballad,” “Back in Love Again,” “Holding On,” and “Never Get Enough of Your Love” to the upper reaches of the R&B charts was followed by nearly a decade’s worth of solo hits spanning both soaring ballads (“On the Wings of Love,” “You Should Be Mine,” “Only Human”) and contagious uptempo anthems (“Stay with Me Tonight,” “Don’t You Get So Mad,” “She’s on the Left”).
Worth It All finds Osborne picking up where he left off in the vein of new songs with 2003’s Music Is Life, remarkably displaying as much vocal agility and ease with range as ever atop a variety of urban-contemporary grooves and melodic R&B ballads that often reach back to harmonic and structural sensibilities of ‘80s soul while bearing a rhythmic foundation that adult-contemporary audiences came to appreciate during the early 2000s. At once conversational and poetic,“The Greatest Night” embodies classic Billy Ocean and Lionel Richie tunes in its verse melodies, but climaxes into classic Osborne territory with a modulating chorus adorned by engaging backing vocals. Lyrically, Osborne—who wrote and produced the entire album—paints a refreshingly colorful picture of a love pursuit sans modern excesses and trivialities: “The 24th of June, I didn’t wait ’til noon, and frantically I looked around/Hoping I did not lose the paper that I used/To carefully write her number down…”
Ranking up there with Osborne’s George Duke-produced balladry of the early ‘80s, the assuring “Saving My Love” crystallizes with a sensitively honed melody and vocal delivery that is rare to happen upon these days. It’s understated in essence, yet powerful in its lasting effect. Throughout Worth It All, Osborne finds no need to resort to faddish sounds or catch-phrases. Although the programming of “Just Can’t Stand It” is a tad on the amateurish side, the feel-good hook and gleeful lyrics are not lost for it. It’s not in the league of “Stay with Me Tonight” or “Don’t You Get So Mad About It” when it comes to showcasing his full capabilities with dance-driven numbers; but the bustling “Can’t Help Myself” comes a little closer with its subtly passionate phrasing and merry metaphors.
One of the most vibrant tunes on Worth It All that meshes old-school flair with a contemporary edge is the piquant midtempo jam “Stay the Way You Are,” an ode to pure romantic commitment free of superficial physical requirements. Set to a percussive arrangement entwined with festive electric guitar lines, Osborne pours desirous tenor fire into each line. “I see you in the mirror every single day/You’re trying to look a certain way…But girl it doesn’t matter, ‘cause without you I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Also groovy, the nostalgic head-nodder “Summer Nights” celebrates familial togetherness throughout world changes with relatable passages and funky wah-wah guitar.
Worth It All closes with the no-nonsense “That Man,” an engagingly rhythmic, cautionary tale of living in the past. “He’s holding so much bitterness inside/Takes it out on everyone, even hurts the ones he loves…Can’t move on, all hope’s gone, he hates the whole entire world for not getting his break…God bless that man.” It’s a boldly truthful entry to end the album, and coming from Osborne—who’s seen his fair share of peaks and valleys in an industry that has changed drastically many times over through his years of recording and touring—it’s all the more relevant. And an impactful reminder of Osborne’s continued status as a commanding performer who brings the most out of each lyric and song he delivers. Recommended.
Review by: Justin Kantor