Smooth Grooves 

R&B artist Gerald Levert headlines national tour with a new message.

I ain't much on Casanova
Me and Romeo ain't never been friends
Can't you see how much I really love you
Gonna sing it to ya time and time again
-- "Casanova"

Before Cleveland, Ohio, native Gerald Levert struck out on his own, he made his mark on the music industry as frontman of the group LeVert. He, brother Sean, and cousin Marc Gordon sang songs such as 1987's "Casanova." While gangsta rap emerged as a hardcore musical genre, LeVert's ballads spoke to the softer side of human emotions. The sweet songs continued as Levert brought the same themes to his solo career.

Through the years, Levert has become synonymous with soulful bluesy melodies and yearning heartache -- in short, make-out songs. Beginning with his 1991 solo debut, Private Line, featuring the hit single "Baby Hold On To Me," and through eight additional albums, Levert has been an R&B performer, producer, and songwriter.

In addition to honing his own skills, Levert has written and produced hits for Patti LaBelle, the late Barry White, and the Winans. As a spin-off to his solo career, Levert joined Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill for a short but fairly successful run as the group LSG. During BET's Salute to Smokey Robinson in October, the husky baritone nearly stole the show with a sizzling rendition of "Ebony Eyes" with Floetry's Marsha Ambrosius. In recorded music and live performances, Levert rarely fails to define the true meaning of R&B.

As the music industry continually evolves, listeners have welcomed socially conscious performers such as Mos Def and Kanye West, rappers with messages reminiscent of hip-hop legends Public Enemy and KRS-One. In the R&B genre, the message has also changed through musicians such as India.Arie. In his latest release, November 2004's Do I Speak for the World, Levert takes a break from the traditional love album and follows these artists in introspective examinations of current events.

At age 38, Levert attributes the change to his maturity. In album notes, the master crooner writes that the desire for this album has long been evident. The recent death of an uncle and other family situations have also prompted the change.

"I always wanted to do a What's Going On-type album." Levert writes. "My question is, 'Does every man and woman feel the same way I do?'"

Levert wastes no time establishing the mood on Do I Speak for the World. A featured performer at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Levert's third track, "Crucify Me," discusses political issues like the ongoing war and school prayer. In "So What (If You Got a Baby)," Levert takes on the problems of single mothers and motherhood. But the crooner never forgets his roots and returns to the art of love songs with heady tunes like "Lay You Down" and "Better To Talk It Out."

Levert's harmonies are flawless, and as an established artist, Grammy-nominee, and NAACP Image Award winner, any album by this artist is a safe purchase. The musical mastery he learned from his father, Eddie Levert of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group the O'Jays, is evident in every song, no matter the subject.

Levert will be in Memphis for the Laughter and Soul Tour. Fellow crooner Will Downing joins Levert. The show is hosted by comedian Monique of UPN's The Parkers. n

The Laughter and Soul Tour at the FedExForum, Friday, April 1st, at 7:30 p.m. $42.75-$55.75. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster, 525-1515.



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