Here is something I thought I'd never add to my collection, an Al B. Sure album. Al B. Sure is an artist who’s closely associated with the new jack swing era of R&B. For younger fans who may not be in the know, New Jack Swing was a pioneering style of R&B music in the late 80’s and early 90’S that fused the vocal stylings of 70’s soul and the hip hop production techniques of the time period to create a style of music that was soulful as much as it was danceable. The music style drew heavily from the synth-funk of the early 80’s without the instrumental chops you’ll hear in a Zapp & Roger record. Guy’s eponymous debut album and Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever” are the albums that best exemplify the style- and those in which established the blueprint for the genre. As the story goes, whenever a successful formula works wonders for one artist, so many other artists get in line for a piece of the gold rush - and that’s exactly what happened to New Jack Swing, as the formula got rammed into the ground pretty fast with so many R&B artists of the day recording these types of records in the exact same production style. And the lyrical content for the genre was very conventional; finding love, losing love and finding love again. The songs don’t have the deep exploration of love and sex that Prince displayed at his best, instead New Jack Swing played it safe. The genre legacy lies in its pioneering production style - which will solidify the marriage of R&B and hip hop as a safe commercial gamble for many A&R executives in the years to come.
Perhaps maybe it’s because he was among the earlier practitioners to record in the New Jack swing style, Al B. Sure! found instant success with it. His debut album, “In Effect Mode” became a runaway hit in 1988 fueled by now classics of the era like; “Off On Your Own Girl”, “Rescue Me” and most famously “Night & Day”. Al B. Sure was a different vocalist from many of his peers. Whereas singers like Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall possessed high pitched and commanding vocals, Al B. Sure’s vocals are considerably laid back and crisp as a faint wind chill in October. When he tells a woman how he feels about her nite & day, he expresses his sentiments with the intimacy of a candlelight whisper. He had the warmth and sensitivity that’s necessary for an r&b crooner to woo the women and the left field quirks to make his uptempo tracks go down easy.
On his follow-up, “Private Times & The Whole 9!”, you get Al B’s trademark sentiments and uptempo tracks in equal abundance as it’s evenly divided into a slow and fast half. A forgotten follow-up to his classic, Private Times is an all-around solid effort for its time period - and still has staying power to this day. Part of the reason why Private Times is an engaging listen is the production. The songs on the slow half have a dim production style that makes for provocative mood music in a romantic setting. “Touch You” is a song that quietly captures the anxious state of mind a man will be in if he’s becoming intimate with an older woman for the first time. “So Special” is little brighter with an arrangement as cute as a dozen roses and a box of candy. The tone of the music bonds with the listener as two glasses of wine and a toast. Al B. Sure! breathes life into these atmospheric sounds with his well - crafted melodies. A notable aspect of Al B. Sure’s vocals is the playfulness he interjects into the proceedings to break the monotony of these standard new jack swing songs. “You Excite Me!” adds clever spoken monologue that expresses his excitement for getting it in (shortsighted and kind of juvenile, but hey, this was geared towards a demographic where sex was important to them). “Sure! Thing” is more thematic in nature, as a cue is taken from Prince’s “International Lover” where a lady functions as a pilot for Al. B to do his usual thing vocally.
“Private Times” is an entertaining album, but it comes up short in the songwriting area. The lyrics are too predictable to be considered original and too inconsistent for the listener to dig out the few noteworthy lines and verses that are buried in the mix stocked romancing. Anytime the standout song on an album of this length is a cover tune, “Hotel California”, it makes your weaknesses as a songwriter all that more obvious. But if you’re looking to set the mood, you can do far worse than “Private Times”- and with the easygoing feel throughout, it stands as a strong artifact of its time.
This is a guest review by Patrick Frierson. Patrick is an avid music lover and collector. He’s spent the past five years or so collecting nothing but the finest in vintage recordings that range from well-known classics to underground gems. Hopefully, you’ll find his reviews to be inspiring enough to make you want to groove out to some of the coolest albums ever recorded. As a rule, he doesn’t write negative reviews, so if he takes the time and effort to review a recording, he genuinely loves it. His passion ensures that he will place a great deal of care and detail into analyzing albums and sharing the info with the readers of The Penman Post. He hopes you all enjoy it as much as he enjoyed sharing his musical experience with you.