Left of Center (Capitol)

When the thugs took over R&B, most old-fashioned fans simply averted their eyes and closed their ears. But today there's a whole new generation of urban gentlemen turning back the clock to a time when the quest for respect inspired classic songs instead of drive-bys. For starters, there's Detroit singer Kem's subtle balladry, Musiq's innocent Philly groove, and Anthony Hamilton's sweet southern soul. But none has as bright a future as Javier Colón, a Connecticut native and Babyface's clear heir apparent.

In fact, Javier's second album suggests that he might be even more. With a range as wide as his smile, he hits the slow jams like a young, hungry 'Face, but handles the acoustic numbers more like Sweet Baby James, pausing in between for a few slices of atmospheric club candy and "The Answer Is Yes," a gospel tribute that wisely doesn't oversell itself and thus succeeds spectacularly. Nothing stretches Javier as far as "October Sky," the straight-no-chaser jazz closer from his debut, but Left of Center hits every target it aims for dead-on.


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