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Easy listening with a modern groove

Pleasure
Pleasure
By Marion Meadows

Discovery / Warner Bros.: 1998

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This review first appeared in the April 18, 1998 edition of the American Reporter.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, easy listening was a viable style. Herb Alpert was at the hip end, Lawrence Welk at the other. And in between were a lot of legitimate musicians playing music that middle America wanted to hear.

It wasn't what the beatniks were into, mind you. There was no improvisation, no angst. Just mellow music perfect for complementing a dinner party or listening to after the kids were down for the night. After all, not everyone is a connoisseur.

Somewhere along the way, easy listening got a bum rap. It was boring, staid. Worse, possibly, than disco. Not to be listened to. And so the children of middle American turned their backs on easy listening.

Well, sort of. As Kenny G, Spyro Gyra and Fattburger showed in the '80s, if you dressed up easy listening by renaming it "light jazz" then the newly middle-aged yuppies would embrace it. Heck, call it "light rock" and you have Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton and Madonna. Which is not surprising. Like their parents, even the raised-on-rock yuppies need a break now and then.

Soprano saxophonist Marion Meadows is in the Kenny G or Grover Washington Jr. mold: smooth grooves designed to soothe, not challenge. He and his cohorts write semi-funky tunes with catchy melodies and lay down multi-layered tracks with a Phil Spector Wall of Sound quality to them.

On his new Discovery album, "Pleasure," Meadows shows a nice touch on instrumental pop. He brings in better-known guest artists to establish credibility with his audience – singers Waymon Tisdale and Marc Dorsey, and guitarists Norman Brown and Chieli Minucci.

It all has a toned-down R&B flavor to it. There's a mellow but danceable backbeat, lots of soaring solos by Meadows, competent backing by his band. Nothing for music snobs to get excited about, but pleasant music for those who like the above.