The Taste of Sugar in '70s Soul at Celebrity Theatre

A diet of all sweets is no way to eat, and it's not the way to listen to soul music either.

Sharing a '70s soul bill Friday at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, the Stylistics, the Dramatics and the Chi-Lites had their moments, but overall the program left too much of a confectionary taste. The Stylistics and the Chi-Lites were almost exclusively dependent on their falsetto lead singers; only the Dramatics offered a rounded, balanced, satisfying sound.

Sweet sorrow was the emotional savor of the Chi-Lites' 45-minute opening set. With his plaintive falsetto sounding sturdier than it did on the group's hit recordings, lead singer Eugene Record mixed tears with sugar to good, if unvaried, effect.

The headlining Stylistics' set rode on the falsetto voice of Russell Thompkins Jr. It was a sonic marvel--soaring, reedy, operatic and inexhaustible. But, for all that, it wasn't especially endearing, and with little help from Thompkins' two mates, it was far too much of a good thing.

The Dramatics' zestful set made one wonder what the Detroit group's place in pop history might be had it been blessed with grade-A material. The five singers interlocked in classic Temptations style, with the emphasis on two compelling lead voices--Ron Banks' assured, effortless falsetto and L. J. Reynolds' bulldog baritone. But while the Temptations, and all the other A-list soul vocal groups, have archives full of wonderful songs, the Dramatics' best material is merely good. That, in the eyes of pop history, makes all the difference.

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