Nearly two decades after the breakup of the Average White Band -- whose success was largely due to Hamish Stuart's blue-eyed soul vocals and songwriting -- comes his first solo album. But remarkably, Sooner or Later sounds like it was recorded near the group's prime. Although the harder edge of Average White Band has softened into a mid-tempo, jazz/blues/adult pop approach not far removed from Michael McDonald, Stuart's instantly recognizable, R&B-drenched voice hasn't changed. His vocals slide into a beautiful, effortless falsetto croon as the low-boil funk urges him on. This album could use a few more "Cut the Cake" groovers to keep it from slipping into snooze-ville, but during the ballads that dominate the track listing, Stuart pays homage to Philadelphia International's rousing '70s output. In fact, "New Kind of Fool" could be this album's "Me & Mrs. Jones," even though his singing isn't as engaging as Billy Paul's. Taken individually, these are fine examples of Stuart's talent and soul vision. But collectively, by track nine, the song quality gradually levels off and the romantic, easy-rolling groove gets redundant. Some compacting would also help, since nearly all the tunes topple the five-minute mark and many meander in their final minutes. Still, those wondering when the vocalist from Average White Band would finally cut an album will find much to enjoy here. Sooner or Later's best songs could easily have come from a classic on the order of Average White Band's Soul Searching, which is high praise indeed. ~ Hal Horowitz, Rovi

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