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Album Review

El DeBarge, 'Second Chance'

November 29, 2010

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Before there was Usher, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake, there was El DeBarge. Fronting his family group with his silken croon, the slinky Michigan vocalist was among the finest to cop the moves of Prince and Michael Jackson and even Barry Gibb in hopes of making the ladies swoon. On his luscious new album, his first in a decade and a half, DeBarge simply soars, his feather-light vocals still in top form following years of personal struggles with drugs and a stint in jail. Friends Faith Evans, Fabolous, and 50 Cent add some contemporary flourishes, but DeBarge doesn’t need them. More vital to the proceedings are behind-the-scenes collaborators like James “Jimmy Jam’’ Harris, Terry Lewis, and Kenny “Babyface’’ Edmonds who help sculpt the slow jams that are DeBarge’s specialty. Edmonds offers up his shamelessly formulaic yet totally irresistible brand of urban pop acoustic guitar plus fingersnaps plus gauzy melody and atmospherics to “When I See You.’’ Like a lot of current R&B, there is a sense of anonymity in some of the tracks. Any one of the above singers could be subbed in to achieve the same result. But given his place as a forebear, DeBarge definitely deserves these redemption songs. (Out tomorrow) SARAH RODMAN

ESSENTIAL “When I See You’’