a real deal soul singer

No Getting Over Me (Ichiban)
Willie Clayton

By Allen Howie

These are hard times for the soul survivors who relished the sounds of Philadelphia, Memphis and Muscle Shoals back in the late '60s and early '70s. What passes for soul today is mostly mechanized "me too" R&B -- pretty soulless stuff.

But all is not lost, as a listen to Willie Clayton's new album will attest. Clayton, whose burnished baritone has opened for soul giants like Al Green, Marvin Gaye and James Brown, delivers the dozen songs on No Getting Over Me with a smooth style that keeps the melody right up front.

From the title track, a cover of the 1981 Ronnie Milsap hit, Clayton stakes out his turf. Over a groove sweetened by strings and led by Bernard Jenkins' majestic guitar, Clayton makes his case, as he does just as convincingly on his own "Soap Opera Love Affair," a sleek, supple ballad in the O'Jays' mold.

Clayton's vocal range is impressive, whether swinging in the Al Green falsetto that opens the album, the Teddy Pendergrass-style testifying of "Somebody," the Otis Redding bravado of "Midnite Dr." or the Sam Cooke balladeering of "Love 4 Tonite." And in another nod to a bygone era, Clayton manages to conjure up a smoldering sensuality without resorting to the explicit directness of today's R&B.

Taken together, No Getting over Me blends timeless melodies, warm arrangements and Clayton's potent vocal style into a seductive, irresistible whole that offers sweet relief for fans of classic soul music.