|"Charlie last name wilson": Charlie Wilson
by Michael Heyliger
His name might not be as recognizable as a
Stevie Wonder or a Luther Vandross, but
make no mistake, Charlie Wilson is an
extremely influential vocalist.
The Tulsa, OK native first got props as
member of The Gap Band. If you were of age
in the Eighties, you grooved to hits like
"Oops Upside Your Head", "Burn Rubber" and "You Dropped A Bomb
On Me". Charlie was the band's cowboy-hatted lead singer.
Mr. Wilson's got a fairly long list of disciples. When Guy came out in
1988, most folks immediately assumed that "Groove Me" was a Gap
Band record. Guy's lead singer Aaron Hall almost sounded like a Xerox
copy of Wilson, down to imitating some of his famous runs and
ad-libs. Then, half a decade, some cat out of Chicago named Kelly
came out with "She's Got That Vibe" and folks were like "I thought
Guy broke up".
At any rate, the Gap Band's time had come and gone by 1990, and in
between reunions and shows on the oldies circuit, Charlie released a
couple of solo albums that never caught fire, while at the same time
battling drug and alcohol abuse. His name stayed afloat however,
due to several things: the love of classic soul music, the sampling of
the Gap Band's music ("Outstanding" is probably one of the ten most
sampled records of all-time), and some key cameos with a couple of
benevolent new artists. Key among them was Snoop Dogg, who has
featured Charlie on several hits, including "Beautiful", and this year's
So, here it is, 2005, and Charlie Wilson's got a brand new solo album,
"Charlie, Last Name Wilson" on Jive Records. Should anyone care?
The answer, given the man's voice, is an unquestionable "yeah". With
a handful of big name artists and producers, it's a steaming slice of
contemporary R&B, and perhaps more surprisingly, it's probably
better than you think it might be.
It might give you pause to see that 3 songs here are written and
produced by R. Kelly. I'll say this, if his own songs (or the songs he
worked on for others) were as good as the three songs he writes
and produces here, I'd be almost willing to give the brother a
reprieve. "Magic" and the title track open the album up, and
immediately set a mood for the whole disc. "Magic" is a gentle, playful
stepper's jam, while "Charlie..." finds our man trying to get with an
attractive young lady, to a slower tempo. Good as these songs are,
none of them is a match for "No Words", one of Kelly's best moments
as a producer/songwriter. I'm not sure if Charlie is trying to school
someone on how to get his woman to pay more attention to him or if
he's playing the role of the fed-up woman himself. Either way, the
song is thrilling, especially after the chord change, where Charlie rips
off a rapid-fire stream of potential reasons why this particular
relationship isn't working out.
I wrote a little earlier about how Charlie directly influenced Aaron
Hall (who paid Charlie tribute by remaking "Yearning For Your Love"
on Guy's 1990 "The Future" album). So, on THIS album, Charlie does
his own take on Guy's ballad "Let's Chill", which appeared on the
same "Future" album. If you're not paying attention, you might forget
which CD you put in the player, the versions are so similar. Charlie
adds a slightly stronger beat and some creamy background
harmonies, but damn! It's Charlie remaking Aaron trying to sound like
Charlie. And it works, which is a testament to Charlie's vocals as
much as it is to great songwriting.
I'm not sure whether I'm happy or not that 2/3 of this album is
downtempo. I mean, The Gap Band were funky as hell back in the
day. However, the earlier two uptempo songs left a bad taste in my
mouth. Those are balanced out by the hypnotic, pulsating "My
Guarantee", and the peppy "Floatin'". This cute, summery song
boasts about 3 different choruses, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it vocal
cameo from co-producer/drummer/keyboardist Justin Timberlake, as
well as an actually tolerable 16 bars from co-producer/bassist
/keyboardist will.i.am from The Black Eyed Peas. So while the album's
fine as is, there's nothing in that nasty/funky vein like the hits of The
Gap Band's heyday.
As with most producer/songwriter-heavy albums, the best song is the
one the artist wrote and produced themselves. "Cry No More", the
album's closer is spiritual without being explicitly gospel. It's got a bit
of a Brian McKnight/pop ballad feel to it, but it boasts Charlie's most
electric vocals, and you can't be mad when the gospel choir comes in
at the end, cliche as it may be.
The return of the long-dormant R&B legend isn't always a good thing.
A lot of artists have trouble measuring up to the quality of their
earlier work. For every Luther Vandross who successfully combined
his old sound with a bit of a new flavor, there's someone like Ron
Isley, who sullies his sterling reputation every time he goes back into
the studio with R. Kelly. Thankfully, Charlie seemed to hit the right
pocket on this album. Although a couple of tracks find Charlie trying a
little TOO hard for someone who's approaching 50 (if he isn't there
already), the majority of this album has enough pleasures for the
older folks who will appreciate hearing some good sangin' on an R&B
record as well as potentially attracting the new jacks who listen to R.
Kelly records and want to know who did it first, and better.
More information and music samples can be found at: