LONGTIME STALWARTS OF the local gospel, theater, and R&B music scenes, the Steeles sound atypically drab and cautious on Better Love, a CD laden with staid arrangements that are only partially ameliorated by vocalists Jevetta Steele and Jerylyn Steele-Battle. Case in point: When a gospel group with the Steeles' proven energy put out a tune titled "Call Him Up," you expect more than mediocre funk with by-the-numbers rhythm. The title track is a sappy, feel-good tune, and "Thankful" likewise stays in a sing-song rut: The innovative percussion and snappy rhythms that marked the group's last outing are conspicuously absent.
But let's get to the good news: "I'm So In Love" is a stylish number reminiscent of the Bacharach-Dionne Warwick collaborations of the '60s. "Home" is another choice cut of sparkling female vocals, done up like a subtle but classic showtune ballad. And a cover of Walter Hawkins's "Strange" is a solid a cappella exercise in the manner of Sounds of Blackness, and, not incidentally, vintage Steeles.
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