The O'Jays

The Last Word

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A 2018 television segment on the O'Jays regarding their 60 years together -- and their plan to stop the following year -- was seen by Sam Hollander, co-writer of multi-platinum hits for One Direction, Fitz & the Tantrums, and Panic! At the Disco. No mention of an upcoming LP was made. This prompted Hollander to contact the group's manager, which led to him -- along with Steve Greenberg, Michael Mangini, and soul great Betty Wright -- co-producing the legends' first proper album since 2004 and final statement. Founding members Eddie Levert and Walter Williams and early-'90s addition Eric Grant are given material that diligently emulates the O'Jays' '70s peak with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and other Philadelphia International studio teams, such as Gene McFadden and John Whitehead. It's an impossible task; however, with the exception of a couple specific later singles, this is the best and most comfortable the O'Jays have sounded since the '70s. The romantic and nostalgic numbers all have a similar combination of grit, conviction, and finesse, capped off by stirring vocal arrangements. There's a high-grade message song, "Stand Up (Show Love)," while "Above the Law" is a fiery protest resembling Norman Whitfield's Temptations productions ("Ball of Confusion") as much as the urgent moments from the second side of Back Stabbers. The finishing touch is an update of the 1967 single "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)." Accompanied only by Angelo Moore on piano and the floating background voices of Williams and Grant, Levert revisits the lead in wiser, more powerful form.

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