From the Bottom to the Top

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There's no mistaking little Sammie for Sammy, the post-Pavement indie-rock combo of the mid-'90s. No, Sammie is an urban R&B singer. He's also a kid, not that you'd really be able to tell that from a cursory listen of his debut album, From the Bottom to the Top. At times, his voice does sound a little thin, but for the most part, it's surprisingly soulful and convincing -- not as stunning and assured as the young Michael Jackson, but certainly a lot better than most child singers. If he's not yet skillful enough to disguise the sometimes uneven material, that's still forgivable, because the tracks that do work, work really well. By and large, those are the songs written and produced by executive producer Dallas Austin, who keeps the beats fresh and light and the hooks strong and catchy -- particularly on uptempo numbers like the opener "The Bottom" and "Can't Let Go," featuring Lloyd of N'Toon. That's not to say that other producers and writers come up empty or that Sammie can't handle slower songs -- the midtempo soul of "Crazy Things I Do," produced and written by C. "Tricky" Stewart, is proof that he can -- but he sounds his most infectious when the beat is a little faster and the hooks are a little sharper. Perhaps that's due to the songwriting, which gets a little undistinguished as the tempo slows, or perhaps it's due to the fact that while Sammie is an impressive talent, he has yet to mature. Either way, the end result is the same: From the Bottom to the Top is entertaining, but not always engaging. Still, we have to remember that this is a debut album from a child singer. Judged on that basis, it's charming and, at times, impressive. Sammie does well this time out, and he'll probably do better next time around.

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