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LOVE JONES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Here's to the Losers (Zoo) 1994
Powerful Pain Relief (Zoo) 1995

Despite Love Jones' smarmy shtick — playing the '90s "Cocktail Nation" revival to the hilt, even if from the periphery — it's hard not to fall for the band's sassy, wry pastiche. Call it nuevo-retro or whatever: the five Louisville gentlemen mine vintage Earth, Wind & Fire licks, sing sweet soul harmonies and spice things up with Latin percussion and swing.

And former Squirrel Bait drummer Ben Daughtrey plays in this outfit? Uh, yep — he's the sarcastic co-frontman/conga player extraordinaire. With bassist Barry Thomas, vocalist Jonathan Palmer, guitarist Chris Hawpe and drummer Stuart Johnson, Love Jones trips back through disco, blaxploitation film soundtracks and Love American Style reruns to deliver tight, if disposable, blue-eyed funk with more than its share of winks.

Here's to the Losers sways into the title track in real lounge-revival style, and then paints a clever urban portrait with "Central Avenue." The rest of the debut offers percolating, excessively smooth samba-soul-funk, with smirking lyrical anecdotes of mundanity ("Li'l Black Book," "Custom Van," "Drive-In," "Ohio River") and truly tender ballads ("Warming Trend," "Fragile") that, in this context, seem more ironic than romantic.

Love Jones is more musically suave if not more enduring on Powerful Pain Relief, co-produced by Paul du Gré. Better songwriting and fatter arrangements carry the ebullient opener, "The Thing," into sly cuts like "Vigilante" and the solipsistic "Me." The ample Isaac Hayes appropriations here don't hurt, either. While Powerful Pain Relief is arguably more fully realized than its predecessor, Love Jones sometimes sounds (is it the modern technology or something else?) more like Chicago than the Wild and Peaceful-era Kool and the Gang. A case of misplaced aspirations?

[Mark Woodlief]
   See also Love Child