“Timeless” is the appropriately named opening track on Case’s solid new album, Heaven’s Door, a 13-song set that proves the veteran R&B singer’s staying power. But despite his longevity, the artist born Case Woodard fits the true definition of “unsung.” Although he has not been featured on the TV One docuseries by that name, he has had a career like those the popular show spotlights with its early promise and yielding of memorable tunes followed by an undeserved dip in commercial success.
After racking up a string of hits, eventually scoring his biggest and a Grammy nomination with the No. 1 R&B/top 5 pop smash “Missing You” in 2001, the commercial success he enjoyed with that exquisite ballad and previous singles has not yet been repeated. His next album did not appear until eight years later, in 2009, followed by another in 2010, both on independent labels after a split from Def Jam Records. Returning with his sixth album, Heaven’s Door, he delivers an LP that should garner his rich vocals the attention they deserve.
Nearly 20 years and exactly six albums into his recording career, Case reminds fans from way back and informs the uninitiated of the talents that made him one of the most noteworthy soul men of the late ’90s and early ’00s. “Damn Girl,” for example, an infectious expression of carnal desire, is reminiscent of the hip-hop/soul swagger of his 1996 breakthrough single
“Touch Me, Tease Me,” a top 5 R&B/top 20 pop hit and party-rocking collaboration with Foxy Brown and Mary J. Blige. Similarly, the standouts “Replay” and “Timeless” boast thumping drumbeats, the latter a proclamation of undying love sung in a heartfelt tenor accented by jazzy horns.
Having ruled airwaves with ballads such as the 1999 hit “Happily Ever After,” with a video starring pre-superstardom Destiny’s Child member Beyoncé, Case proves he’s still got a flair for slow jams on his new release. Exploring the many pains and pleasures of relationships, the album’s most affecting ballads address such topics as petty lovers’ quarrels (the stellar, guitar-laced “Difficult,” on which he sings, “something as simple as us being in love, why it gotta be so difficult?”), post-breakup regret (“Think About Us,” with its clever, if slightly belabored, computer-lingo metaphors: “And randomly I keep accessing memories/ Running across them emails that you sent to me”), unfaithfulness (“Juggle”) and sensuality (“Heavy Breathing,” “Tour” and “Blast Off”).
Closing a bright note, the album saves two of the best tunes for last. “You Just Don’t Know” features intricate vocal layering and hypnotic keyboard work reminiscent of classic Stevie Wonder recordings. The final track, “I Won’t Cry Anymore,” unexpectedly goes even further back for inspiration with its beautifully lush jazz arrangement.
Case has said of his inspiration for the new album, “Our music has always been the story of us, and with this album, I’m on the doorstep of my own personal heaven.” Thank heaven that despite, or because of, the roadblocks he has faced on the highway he has taken there, he now returns in top form.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Standout Tracks: “Timeless,” “Heavy Breathing,” “Difficult,” “Replay,” “You Just Don’t Know” and “I Won’t Cry Anymore”
Get your copy of Case’s new album, Heaven’s Door, on March 31.