Jeffrey Osborne was the born the youngest of twelve children in a musical family. His father was noted jazz trumpeter Clarence “Legs” Osborne, and many of his siblings went on to careers in music. Osborne began playing drums professionally while still in high school, working around his hometown of Providence, RI. A new R&B outfit called Love Men Ltd. recruited him while touring, and he joined the group, renamed L.T.D., in Los Angeles after graduation. His rich voice soon moved him out from behind the drum kit, and his brother Billy joined L.T.D. also on vocals and drums as well as keyboards. After nearly a decade of solid chart success with the band, Osborne wanted to write for other artists and explore occasional solo work. L.T.D. wasn’t interested in sharing his talents, so he left the band entirely, waiting a year for legal releases to come through while he planned his solo debut. During that time, he hooked up with jazz multi-instrumentalist and producer George Duke, who agreed to helm the project. Duke’s diverse talents — and his many friends and connections — allowed the singer to make the most of his own strengths, resulting in a powerful first release.
||A & M
[U.S. Hot 100]
- New Love
- Eenie Meenie [#76]
- I Really Don’t Need No Light [#39]
- On the Wings of Love [#29]
- Ready For Your Love
- Who You Talkin’ To?
- You Were Made to Love
- Ain’t Nothin’ Missin’
Duke and Osborne set the stage perfectly with New Love. It’s a joyous blast of romantic optimism, featuring nice horn work and a tight rhythm section. A well-produced choir provide harmonies, providing a rich backdrop for Osborne’s exuberant vocal. The track is a nice kickoff and a great declaration of musical independence. Eenie Meenie is a darker track with a soulful groove. Telling the tale of a romance broken once too often, it features bright strings and elegant percussion. Osborne sings of knowing when something is finally over, conveying sorrow without being broken.
The masterpiece of the disc is the searing I Really Don’t Need No Light. The first single, it showed off everything Osborne learned in his time touring with the band and his new confidence in his own right. It’s a great kiss-off song with smart lyrics; Duke’s production makes the most of Osborne’s distinctive phrasing, and the whole package is a perfect example of timeless dance pop. The next hit took a very different approach. On the Wings of Love is a delightful celebration song. Driven by a blend of keyboards and subtle strings, it’s a joyous ballad of hope and love. The subtle touches — like the snare riff in the chorus — provide texture that helps it rise above the typical happy pop love song.
Ready For Your Love is a smoldering dance track, with Osborne singing his regrets about almost letting romance slip away. He offers a grittier vocal than usual, adding variety to the disc and energy to the song. Duke’s sequencing of the album is part of its magic, and offering the jazzy showcase of Who You Talkin’ To? next is a fine example. With sassy horns, a searing guitar solo, engaging treated vocal backing, and a tight, band, it’s a big, bossy number. Osborne clearly has fun with it. You Were Made to Love is fine, but something of a letdown. A fluffy slow dance love song, it features a nice vocal but some frankly silly lyrics. Fortunately, Ain’t Nothin’ Missin’ blasts in with joyful energy. A track of unadulterated happiness, it features fun do-do-do backing vocals and one of Osborne’s best leads.
Baby is a swirling torch song, reminiscent of Al Green. It’s lyrically slight, but Duke and Osborne treat it with respect, turning in something surprising. Things wrap up with the remarkable Congratulations. Sung to a former lover as she prepares for her wedding, it could be a syrupy weeper. Instead, it’s treated with restraint, a slow, bare start that builds gradually, almost sneaking up on the listener. Osborne’s great phrasing makes the most of the telling line “Life goes on, I guess”, capturing the heart of the song. It’s a perfect wrap-up to a solid outing.
FURTHER LISTENING: Jeffrey Osborne continued to release solid, fun albums for a decade. His sophomore effort, Stay With Me Tonight, is nearly as good as the debut and a personal favorite. Don’t Stop follows the Duke/Osborne formula with diminishing returns but is still very worthwhile. From there, things are a mixed bag. Osborne’s voice is always amazing however, and his sense of musicality is so strong that he makes the most of even the weaker material. For the casual fan, the Ultimate Collection actually lives up to its name, offering 17 great songs including his best work with L.T.D.