Don-E might not be a household name, but you've heard his songs. Since appearing back in the 90s and cracking the Top 20 with his Love Makes The World Go Round, this Brixton R&B songsmith has written songs and produced for Mica Paris, the Sugababes, and his cousin Beverly Knight - not to mention touring in the band of none other than Grace Jones. Now, on new album, Natural - his first in three years - he's calling in the favours. There's cameos here from not just one but two Sugababes: Keisha Buchanan takes the lead on bittersweet break-up number Writing's On The Wall, a duet over clicking, staggered drums and cool, twinkling synthesisers; former Babe Mutya Buena, meanwhile, takes up the second verse on dazed, loved-up closer, The Time Is Now.
For all Don-E's documented skills at penning pop songs, though, Natural isn't straight commercial fare. Smooth and humid, this is R&B with an ear for smooth textures and live instrumentation, big sing-along choruses replaced by simmering, slow-burning grooves and songs that slip softly into your consciousness. One of the record's stand-outs comes with So Cold, a slice of heavy soul that features US R&B legend D'Angelo playing a languid, freaky Fender Rhodes, while I Like It I Like It is a gleaming, lightly funky R&B smoochfest that finds Don-E dueting with the honeyed tones of Kele Le Roc. Natural is neatly crafted R&B that'll probably sound better in the crib than the club, and while Sugababes fans might crave a few more big pop hooks, Natural should charm any soul fan with the patience to swing to its soft, satiny grooves. --Louis Pattison
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