When After 7 hit the scene in 1989, they painted their own shade of traditional vocal group soul and New Jack Swing, the period’s principal form of black pop. Stylish and sophisticated, Keith Mitchell and brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds played to a wide range of listeners, from pre-teen kids up through their older siblings and parents. After 7 (1989), Takin’ My Time (1992), and Reflections (1995) carefully balanced accessible dance fare and urban contemporary ballads, a mix fortified by satiny three-part harmonies and high-gloss production values.
The trio was collectively gifted, but it was Kevon’s clear, radio-ready tenor that pushed them into the foreground of the cramped R&B market of the late eighties and early nineties. Comparable lead singers—particularly Guy’s Aaron Hall and the late Gerald Levert of LeVert—were top-flight interpreters, but the pure emotion in Kevon’s voice imbued favorites like “Can’t Stop,” “Heat of the Moment,” “Ready or Not,” “One Night,” “Til You Do Me Right,” and the Five Heartbeats showstopper “Nights Like This” with an aching clarity largely missing in their peers’ output. That same radiant spirit permeates Timeless, After 7’s first proper release in 21 years.
At a succinct 10 tracks—just two cuts longer than their cassette-era debut—it’s a veteran record squarely aimed at the seasoned audience that’s helped recent offerings by SWV, Tamia, Charlie Wilson, and Kenny Lattimore post solid numbers. Now a quartet that includes nephew Jason Edmonds, the group has crafted an album of soundscapes not too dissimilar from their classics.
Lean, classy production abounds thanks in large part to the skillful ears of longtime collaborators Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons, who helmed the lion’s share of the material. Backed by a tight cast of session players that includes bassist Nathan East and keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, After 7 retain their trademark warmth without sounding dated. Simply put, this is good, unfiltered R&B.
The instrumentation and vocals are bold throughout, as the group shines across tales of loyalty (the recent single “Let Me Know”), the excitement of a new love affair (“More Than Friends”), and predestined romance (“Lovin’ You All My Life”) that illuminate their charm and stylistic range. While the bright, catchy “I Want You” caught on at adult R&B stations, the shuffling steppers groove of “Everything,” easily the best song on the album, could prove another winner.
Elsewhere, their sparkly cover of the Stylistics classic “Betcha By Golly Wow” is as memorable as their melding of the Originals’ “Baby I’m for Real” and Bloodstone’s “Natural High,” or their take on the Hall and Oates blue-eyed soul staple “Sara Smile.” As the album winds to a close with the spacious and lyrically rich “Home,” it’s easy to remember why these guys became one of the premiere ensembles of their generation.
Despite the passage of time, a few lineup changes, and two solo albums from Kevon (1999’s 24/7 and 2009’s Who Knew), After 7 still has a way with the language of love. Just as the title suggests, the group and its body of work—including these new creations—are timeless. A welcome, much-needed return.
Notable Tracks: “Everything” | “Home” | “If I”