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Jeffrey Osborne, 'From The Soul'

ED GORDON, host:

For R&B fans, the name Jeffrey Osborne brings to mind that classic baritone sound that defines some of the best ballads of the 1970s and '80s. Now Osborne is back with a new project called "From The Soul." Osborne applied his unmistakable voice to 10 of the most popular love songs of the classic soul era, including this one, the Barbara Mason favorite, "Yes, I'm Ready."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JEFFREY OSBORNE: (Singing) Yes, I'm ready to learn to fall in love, to fall in love...

GORDON: All the songs on this CD are exactly the kind of ballads that Osborne recorded himself as lead singer of the group L.T.D. It may be hard to believe now but Osborne didn't start his career as the front man. He began as that essential guy in the back.

Mr. OSBORNE: I started as a drummer. I joined L.T.D. as a drummer and became the singer after our third album. Of course, they're called CDs now but back in the day they were albums. And it took three albums before L.T.D. became popular, the third album which was "Love to the World" album and I had a signature song on there called "Love Ballad," which really was a career song for me actually.

(Soundbite of song "Love Ballad")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) Loving you gave me something new that I never felt...

After "Love Ballad," I was then officially the lead singer for L.T.D.

(Soundbite of song "Love Ballad")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) Something's changed. No, it's not the feeling I had before. Oh, it's much, much, much more.

GORDON: What if, when you stepped out front and went solo--you know, you can think of people like yourself or Lionel Richie who were able to leave very, very successful groups and then take a solo career to, to a great degree, the same kind of heights? And then there--you know, the road is littered with others who felt like, `Yeah, I can leave,' and clearly talented folks--I think of, you know, David Ruffin up front, you know, clearly talented but never met the same kind of popularity he had as a Temptation.

Mr. OSBORNE: Yeah.

GORDON: Were you afraid to do so?

Mr. OSBORNE: Well, I was definitely. I was skeptical about leaving the group because, you know, I had never ventured off before and my name wasn't out in front of the group. So nobody really knew my name. They knew my voice. So the key was to associate the voice with the name, but, yeah, you are skeptical. I think the one thing that helped for me is that I was one of the chief songwriters with L.T.D. So I wrote a lot of the material, and when I left as a solo artist, I didn't have to look to anybody else to form my identity 'cause I could write. And I think if you look back at the lead singers that left groups that didn't make it, you'll see that a lot of them were songwriters like Lionel Richie. I mean, they were able to control their own destiny.

GORDON: "From The Soul," the new project, really a double meaning there. "From The Soul," I suspect these are songs that are of your soul that you loved and grew up with, but it is also a return to traditional soul music...

Mr. OSBORNE: That's right.

GORDON: ...the kind that people love from Jeffrey Osborne so much.

Mr. OSBORNE: Yeah, it's kind of a little double entendre there. Yeah, it was fun doing this project 'cause I've never done anything like this where I've actually, you know, covered classic R&B songs. I tried to pick songs that hadn't been covered a lot because, you know, there are so many great classic R&B songs, but then there are so many that have been done over and over and over. So I think the objective for me was to try to find songs that hadn't been done that much and that was a challenge in itself, you know, just trying to find songs that are going to be suitable for my voice and also just, you know, that people hadn't heard much.

(Soundbite of song "Close The Door")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) Close the door. Let me give you what you've been waiting for. Baby, I've got so much love to give and I want to give it all...

GORDON: There are two songs on there that are so identifiable to the artist that put them together. I wonder if you thought about this in remaking--the first is "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face"...

Mr. OSBORNE: Right.

GORDON: ...the great Roberta Flack...

Mr. OSBORNE: Yeah.

GORDON: ...and the other I found interesting. You do "Close The Door" which is, of course, a big hit of Teddy Pendergrass, who was a contemporary of yours.

(Soundbite of song "Close The Door")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) Oh, come here, baby. Hah. Oh, let me blow your mind.

With "Close The Door," I was a little reluctant to do that song because, you know, sometimes when a song is done, it's done and you don't mess with it. And that's one of those kind of songs. But I just took a chance with it, you know, and I love this song.

(Soundbite of song "Close The Door")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) Let me make sweet love to you, baby.

What was the other one you asked me about?

GORDON: Roberta Flack.

Mr. OSBORNE: Roberta Flack. Oh, well...

(Soundbite of song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) The first time ever I saw your face.

See, I don't know any other male vocalist that covered that song.

(Soundbite of song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) I thought the sun rose in your eyes.

And that song there is a song that you don't attempt to do unless you feel vocally you can get through it 'cause that's a challenging piece of music there. The hardest thing sometimes for singers to pull off is simplicity, and that song is just a beautiful work of simplicity. I mean, if you listen to a lot of the young singers today, they just do a million runs, you know, a riff on every line and that's not a challenge. I mean, there's no emotion in a riff, but you can put emotion in a whole note, and that song there, you have to make people feel that song.

(Soundbite of song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face")

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) And the first time ever I kissed your mouth.

GORDON: Jeffrey Osborne. The new CD is called "From The Soul," a collection of great R&B standards and your interpretation of them, and as always, man, you did a great job. We thank you for your time today.

Mr. OSBORNE: I'd like for all the listeners out there to know how much I appreciate them because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today and they've been with me my whole career. So I'd like them to know how much I appreciate them.

GORDON: All right. Thanks, man.

Mr. OSBORNE: All right.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) I don't want to bore you with it although I love you.

Backup Singers: I love you. I love you.

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) I don't want to bore you with it...

Backup Singers: ...although I love you.

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) I love you.

Backup Singers: I love you.

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) I love you.

Backup Singers: I love you.

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) I love you.

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. OSBORNE: (Singing) Oh, baby, I love you. Baby, a part of you inside my heart that makes me want to sing or makes me want to...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.