After 7 – Unfinished Business
While After 7 has not had the prolific presence of Boyz II Men or All-4-One in recent decades, the Atlanta-based vocal group’s hit streak in the early to mid-nineties had the kind of impact that has kept them on many listeners’ radars. After their disbandment in 1997, chief lead vocalist Kevon Edmonds released two solo albums before rejoining forces with Keith Mitchell and bringing in Jason Edmonds, son of late bandmate Melvin, for 2016’s Timeless. Singles such as “Too Late” and “Let Me Know” affirmed that the trio still had a defined penchant for romantic harmonies atop classic melodies and sultry grooves.
Unfinished Business, After 7’s fifth album, sees the group adapt to another transition, as Danny McClain makes his debut with Kevon and Keith following the untimely passing of Melvin in 2019. Through the course of the disc’s 12 tracks, there are traces of the trio’s signature sound. Unlike Timeless, however, there is a conscious effort here to update the style with more contemporary musical and lyrical templates. Concurrently, the harmonic element is less prevalent, with the lead performances of Kevon and Danny being the vocal focal point.
Production of the lead single, “Bittersweet,” is an ideal melding of current rhythmic leanings with an understated melodic treatment that effectively drives home the relatable lyrics in a fashion that has resonated with both longtime fans and newer recruits. More overtly, and perhaps less distinctively, the opening “That Extra Mile” picks up the pace and the phrasing. Kevon and Danny’s performances are on point, but the lyrics and arrangement are more fleeting.
“Fine Wine” is a choice selection of Unfinished Business in its employment of sensual words delivered with sensitivity. The groove is fresh and the dynamics are of a laid back nature, but with a bit more of the passion of past hits such as “Ready or Not” and “Truly Something Special.” “Sum of a Woman” is more abstract than most of After 7’s fare, but satisfying in its sonic twists and turns. Both Kevon and Danny carry the memorable passages with savoir faire, resulting in an entry that will likely appeal to a wide audience if given a shot as a single.
Those who’ve been on the ride with After 7 since the beginning may find the most connection with two ballads that close out Unfinished Business. Both “When Was the Last Time” and “All I Want Is You” are imbued with an emotional sincerity uncomplicated by attention to trends. The vulnerability showcased in the story lines and their execution allow the guys to shine and leave a lasting impression on the heart. While a tribute to Melvin in song might have provided a finishing touch to the album, several brief recordings of him speaking about the role of music in his life are included. Perhaps these attest more effectively to his importance than a general musical remembrance would have.
Unfinished Business is a welcome return from a group which had considerable influence on the R&B vocal landscape of the 1990s, but sometimes gets left out of the conversation at large. After 7 does a commendable job of preserving class and sophistication in the majority of their new material, while tastefully blending in new influences and flavors necessary to expand their reach in today’s marketplace. The album will likely not have the same impact on their most devoted fans as Timeless; but it will likely inspire others who slept on that one to delve deeper into the group’s impressive body of work. Recommended.