Picks and Pans Review: Medicine Music

updated 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Bobby McFerrin

Based on his track record, McFerrin, the magical one-man vocal orchestra, seems capable of anything. Make that almost anything. While this album extends his artistry, it is less festive and less consistent than its popular predecessor, Simple Pleasures.

But don't go away until you've sampled some of this record's estimable concoctions. There's the doo-woppy "Yes, You," reclining seductively on the feather bed of McFerrin's airy falsetto. "Sweet in the Mornin'," on which the singer is backed by his Voicestra, a 10-member chorus, is a sweeping gospel flood that could have even Take 6 catching their breath.

The simplest song here, the ballad "Common Threads," may be the prettiest, so lovely it makes you forget all the layering McFerrin is using to put it across.

On Simple Pleasures, McFerrin illuminated pop music with syncopated rhythms and askew harmonic elements. His stated intention this time was to experiment with taking his style in a more African direction. In this he succeeds only moderately well.

Maybe it's the lack of percussion, but such songs as "Medicine Man" sound more like American Indian music than they do African. He does get a good tribal feeling going on "The Garden," a musical meditation on the dawn of mankind.

"Discipline," on the other hand, is a tedious work chant, despite the fact that it features the Paul Robeson-like baritone of Bobby's father, Robert McFerrin Sr.

So, if ambition at times casts McFerrin into deeper waters than he can plumb, it's true that he has already done unimaginable things with the human voice. And even the weak tracks here are marked by McFerrin's inventive arrangements. It would be idiocy not to applaud his attempts to expand his horizons. (EMI)

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