Various Artists

Smooth Grooves: After Hours

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Smooth Grooves proved to be one of Rhino's most popular series of the '90s, surviving through a number of permutations, including After Hours. If the early volumes had their share of crossover hits, 2000's After Hours is firmly entrenched in specialist territory -- namely, late-night urban radio stations that play romantic quiet storm tunes. Most of the 15 songs on this compilation were R&B hits between 1982 and 1987, several climbing into the Top Ten, yet any listener that didn't pay attention to urban radio can be forgiven for not recognizing these songs since, by and large, they never really broke into a larger market. (Roger's "I Want to Be Your Man" hit number three on the pop charts, but it's the only one to achieve such a strong placing.) They probably didn't earn a crossover audience because the music is about atmosphere, not hooks or beats -- it's romantic mood music. Most of the songs sound like they date from 1981 or 1982, yet certain synths and rhythms peg them as creations of the mid-'80s. They all wind up being a little out of time -- of no specific year, but certainly from the early '80s -- and that's why the compilation holds together as it floats from year to year. There aren't really that many songs that stand out -- Keni Burke's "Risin' to the Top," Bernard Wright's "Who Do You Love," and Roger's "I Want to Be Your Man" come close -- but it all feels of a piece, which is why After Hours is a good listen for anyone seeking a nice, romantic collection of early-'80s quiet storm. Among the featured artists are Juicy, Tease, Atlantic Starr, Loose Ends, Midnight Star, Joyce Sims, Eugene Wilde, and Dennis Edwards & Siedah Garrett.

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