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Gerald Levert 

The G Spot (Elektra)

If neo-soul is about uplifting the R&B -- above the booty, where it's been for quite a while -- then Gerald Levert's sixth solo album falls below this year's most refined male discs, Musiq Soulchild's pleasantly polite Juslisen and Raphael Saadiq's subtly brilliant Instant Vintage. In fact, if anything, Levert has maintained his impressive chart performance by insisting that he's an ass man. This time, the Clevelander seizes a racy album title stupidly overlooked by a generation of "G"s and opens the proceedings with "Too Much Room," a booty call backed by none other than Mr. "Shake Ya Ass" himself, Mystikal.

But in a way, the album is still more sharply reminiscent of old-school soul than even Soulchild and Saadiq. In part, that's because The G Spot was recorded in Philadelphia, the city where Levert's dad struck gold with the O'Jays. The live string sections, Roy Ayers cameo, and richly layered backup vocals are then taken to the next level by an element most neo-soul stars can't imitate: deeply gritty and impassioned lead vocals. Too bad the final third dips into the kind of shapeless ballads that would sink any soul album, no matter how elevated its aims.

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