Boney James

Sweet Thing

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Boney James is hereby nominated to replace Kenny G as the poster boy for smooth jazz. The multi-saxman is not only one of the genre's top sellers, but also most consistently captures the requisite balance of silky, urban-lite grooves, bright yet easygoing melodic horn licks, and -- most importantly as far as definition is concerned -- improvises effectively enough for "jazz" to be an appropriate term for what he does. Bluntly speaking, he's more diverse, more soulful and less grating and repetitive than the G man. James' fourth non-holiday disc, Sweet Thing, finds him and co-producer Paul Brown up to their old irresistible tricks, texturing subtle hints of Earth, Wind & Fire-flavored horns, David Torkanowsky's vibes, Peter White's accordion, even a Moog and Wurlitzer to capture a laid-back classic soul feeling. The title track, in fact, is a tasteful cover of a classic Rufus hit from the era, featuring the song's co-writer, Tony Maiden, on guitar. James' fluffy, happy jazz titles -- "Nothin' But Love," "It's All Good," "Innocence" -- seem, however, too superficial and simple to represent tunes that dig this deep emotionally and feature impressive solos which turn even the catchiest pop tune away from strict cliché. They reflect James' lighthearted approach, yet tell little of the spiritual points beyond the smile. Al Jarreau's voice adds a touch of class and sensuality to "I Still Dream."

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