Despite questionable (and frustrating) musical directions that took the quartet away from their gospel and soul foundation, All-4-One remains one of the most talented vocal acts of the 90s - but one that during that decade failed to achieve musically what its immense talent warranted.
Individually raised as "church singers," Tony Borowiak, Jamie Jones, and Alfred Nevarez met in a California studio where they each sang commercial jingles. They soon convinced a superb local singer, Delious Kennedy, to join them in search of a record contract. Together they auditioned for L.A.-based Blitzz Records, performing a cover of the Tymes' classic doo-wop tune "So Much In Love," and were promptly signed by the label for a 1994 debut disc. Released during the brief renaissance for vocal quartets in the mid 90s (led by Boyz II Men), All-4-One's self-titled debut took off, fronted by their nice a cappella version of "So Much In Love." The follow up single, a slick, well performed cover of country star John Michael Montgomery's "I Swear," was an unmitigated smash, topping the pop charts for 11 weeks and becoming the year's biggest selling single. While nothing else on the album matched the quality of the two singles, by the end of 1995 All-4-One appeared to be on the verge of superstardom.
For their second album, the quartet faced a crossroad: With growing support in both pop and Soul corners, and the music scene already having changed from the time of the group's debut album, All-4-One needed to make a statement on its musical direction. Unfortunately, the group made a creative blunder, recording a safe, by-the-numbers adult contemporary disc, And The Music Speaks, that pushed it away from the Soul and gospel hintings of its first album and toward a blander, softer sound. Electing again to spotlight a David Foster-produced Montgomery cover, "I Can Love You Like That," All-4-One scored moderately on the pop singles chart but immediately and permanently surrendered Soul music support. The album faded from the charts quickly, but was immediately followed by a Christmas album and the theme song from the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, neither of which fared well in the US.
The group then began recording its next album, On and On, planning a 1997 release. However, a record company dispute delayed the album for almost 18 months, and it was quietly released on Atlantic in 1999 with little support. The lack of notice was unfortunate, as On and On was the group's best disc. Though still produced and arranged fairly unimaginatively, it included better overall material, including the notable ballads "Time To Come Home" and "I Will Be Right Here," and uniformly strong lead vocal performances by Kennedy and Jones.
An auto accident then sidelined the quartet for over a year, but they eyed a comeback on Discretion Records via a 2001 album entitled All-4-One...Has Left the Building. Though touted by that label for some time, the disc was never released. Virtually forgotten by 2002, All-4-One signed with small American Records and released the album A41 with the help of Foster and light instrumental artist Jim Brickman. It was another surprisingly tame album, especially given the failure of their previous two studio albums to generate any interest. While containing the melodic ballad "Not Ready For Goodbye," the disc was not what the group needed to reestablish itself as a major act, and it failed to chart. In 2004, the group released in Asia Split Personality, an album of mostly new material which included the single "Someone to Live In Your Heart."
Soon after Split Personality, lead vocalist Jamie Jones issued a solo CD that included a couple of excellent tracks with his All-4-One mates. The group continued to perform together while planning future recordings. Jones achieved some success as a producer, particularly on Wayne Brady's Change Is Gonna Come. It opened the door for the signing of All-4-One by Peak Records and the recording of No Regrets, released in September 2009. Given a second chance at stardom, All-4-One took advantage, recording the group's best disc ever, an excellent updating of the group's sound with hotter arrangements and uniformly solid material. The group continued to tour the world supporting No Regrets as well as their prior catalog.
Unfortunately, the first act of All-4-One's biography was a story of missed opportunities for greatness. With two exceptional lead singers and really wonderful group harmonies, this quartet had the talent and the potential to be the preeminent male Soul vocal group of the 90s. But they took a less soulful path, ultimately constraining their vocal prowess in slick, safe adult contemporary surroundings that backfired artistically and commercially. But with No Regrets, the group made amends. No longer kids, the guys of All-4-One sounded more comfortable and self-aware than in their first go-round and the confidence of their new direction bursts from the album. Here's hoping that No Regrets spells a commercial rebirth for a wiser group that seems determined to do things just right the second time around.
by Chris Rizik
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