I don't consider myself the biggest Eric Benét fan, but after this review I might have to reconsider my status. I've been rolling with him since he sung about "Femininity" on 1996's True to Myself. It doesn't matter that I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the content of the album. Even then I recognized what a talent he is and that he brings with him a quality largely absent from radio today. In his early days, he seemed to be the sexy, hippie, neo-soul darling of love songs with his brown locs, chokers and tie-dye outfits. Just see "Let's Stay Together," "Spend My Life With You" and "Come As You Are" for reference. Since then, Benét and the music industry have gone through many well publicized changes. Sometime after A Day In the Life, my interest in his music waned, and I grew less familiar with his subsequent releases. This all changed with Lost In Time in 2010. With that album, he sought to resuscitate a dying genre by reacquainting soul and R&B. By incorporating all live instrumentation and a few carefully selected duets, he was so successful in bringing back the classic R&B sound that I had to double-check the liner notes to be sure the bulk of the songs weren't covers. It was skillfully done, even if record sales didn't accurately reflect the album's worth.
With his sixth album, The One, and the first on his own label, Jordan House Records, EB remains committed to quality, but smartly mixes up his sound rather than repeating the same concept employed on Lost In Time. The mid-tempo jam and single, "Harriett Jones," kicks off the album. In it, Eric expresses regret about his inability to resist temptation, and begs to come back home. He's tired of being alone and realizes that he had to lose everything before he appreciated what he had. Before you cue Sunshine Anderson's "Heard It All Before," you'll have to hear for yourself how he unwraps an old concept and keeps it fresh. Eric doesn't do much begging for forgiveness outside of that song because he's too busy being a better man. He is beaming with love for his wife, Manuela Testolini, and it radiates from every corner of this album. At the start of "News for You," he gives us a little of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly's "Happy Feelin's" "do-doo-doo-doo-dah-doo." The news he has is that after experiencing so many disappointments, he's the one thing she won't have to worry about. He continues to breathe confidence into his relationship on "Real Love," sung in his unfaltering falsetto. He professes that "in a world full of make-believe," they have something real and pokes fun at their quirky ways. It's a heartwarming peek into the mind of a mature man who wholeheartedly cherishes the woman he committed to spend his life with.
If there's any song that feels especially autobiographical, it's the beautifully raw "Runnin'." Benét recalls being something of a philanderer, "running," convincing himself that it was all a game. Although he may have fooled others, he didn't fool himself. To mask his loneliness, he just continued the fruitless behavior. Eventually, he was transformed by a chance encounter, meeting a woman worth changing for. He decided to never run anywhere else but home to her. Now when people see him running, they say "that's love for sure." A wiser Benét sees other people carrying on the same habits he'd dropped and sincerely wishes to help them, but can't because he has to get home to his love. Set against a lively backdrop of brass, creating the perfect setting for this insightful love song, the lyrics of the chorus cleverly conform to the story conveyed in each verse.
The mood is almost ruined, however, when "Red Bone Girl" featuring Lil' Wayne starts -- not because of the subject matter, but because Weezy's contribution feels a little out of place. This collaboration didn't come as completely out of left field as you may think. While incarcerated, Lil' Tunechi supposedly stayed glued to the radio waiting for "Sometimes I Cry" to come on, and he wrote about it in a letter from lock-up. Benét was honored by the mention, and so here we are. You can't blame the man for getting us talking, and I actually hope it brought needed attention to the release of this album. And just so you know, Eric loves women of all bone colors. He just took a minute to tell us about this "one little particular situation." It's a funky number, and it has grown on me since my first listen. Even though I'm still not completely sold on Mr. Carter's appearance here, I like how the beat adjusts to accommodate his rhymes.
"Waitin'" expresses a sweet sentiment, but it is kind of standard EB fare until the tempo change near the end of the song. It suddenly slows down and turns into a merry-go-round chorus of him repeatedly singing "waiting." "Gonna Be My Girl" is also a little underwhelming and teeters on being a forgettable, average standard.
It's around this point in the album where Benét takes advantage of his newfound creative freedom, going for a little island flavor with the reggae tinged "Hope That It's You." Does he flip some faux Jamaican patois? No, he doesn't take it there, but it is refreshing to hear him try something outside of his norm. Too often artists feel constrained by their own past successes, locked into a particular sound with a fan base unwilling to hear or support any deviation from that. "Hope That It's You" is light, listenable, and a nice change of pace for the artist. The female accompanying him on vocals adds interest; without her contribution, the wiseness of this move may have been rightfully brought into question.
From the very first notes of "Come Together," you know that this will be a modern, sexy song with old-school swag. The title of the song is a double-entendre played on throughout the track. EB wants to stop fighting long enough to come together emotionally and (most of all) physically. He even follows the number one rule that no sexy-time song gets an official stamp of approval unless there's a woman moaning and whispering in a foreign language.
Benét's oldest daughter is all grown up and featured on "Muzik." She previously collaborated with her dad on the breezy cut "Summer Love" from Lost In Time. There, she was more of a background vocalist. Here, her voice is front and center and she proves that pops isn't the only one with chops. Eric and India Benét compare their love for each other to the effect music has on each of them. The result is cheery and cheese-free affair, a real danger for this type of father-daughter love song.
To break from mushy love songs, Benét continues to experiment with his sound on "Lay It Down." It's a contemporary sounding verbal hug, urging a friend to stop suffering in silence and to allow him to help carry the burdensome load of his or her hurt and pain.
Written by Manuela and Eric, "Here In My Arms (Lucia's Lullaby)" is a soothing, unhurried dedication to their baby girl. It threatens to jumpstart your waterworks, especially if you are a new or expectant parent, so listen with caution. "Come Home to Me" featuring Hawaii native Jewl Anguay comes as a surprise. The season 10 American Idol hopeful puts in a sincere vocal performance on the sweet song with a palpable country twang. See? Lionel Richie isn't the only one who can take it there.
As the industry has changed over the years, Eric Benét has not gotten the love and attention he deserves. At times, his talent was overshadowed by tabloid drama, but he has moved beyond his past and has settled into a new reality. At 45 years old, Eric has aged well like fine wine, and I'm not even referencing his physical appearance (although he is most certainly still easy on the eyes). His voice has only gotten better over time, and he is producing music that we'll still enjoy years down the line. Given the attention to detail, you can tell he works at his craft and doesn't rush his product for the sake of keeping his name on the tip of our tongues. We were a little surprised to have another album from him so soon, but we're grateful as it's a worthy follow-up to his 2010 release. With albums like Lost In Time and The One, he proves that come hell or Euro Pop R&B, he'll always do his part to ensure that quality R&B doesn't become just a thing of the past.