Personnel: Howard Hewett (background vocals); Val Watson (vocals); Howard McCray (bass voice); Joe Lindsay, Bill Ruppert, John Jubu Smith, Nils, Paul Jackson, Jr. , Richie Davis , Ray Fuller, Eric Brice (guitar); Jimmy Miller (guitars); Mark Anderson (cello); Mark Cargill (strings); June Matayoshi (oboe); Raymond Crossley, Neil Artwick, Joe Wolfe, Monty Seward, Ralph Johnson (keyboards); Anthony Bobalik, Eddie Miller (synthesizer); Nathan East, Stanley Clark (bass guitar); WEndell Wayne Stewart, Rayford Griffin, Ricky Lawson (drums); Paulinho Da Costa (percussion); Rodney Shelton, Mark-Anthony Johnson (drum programming); Kimaya Seward, Larina, Kay Roebuck, Shannon Pierson, Edith Dalia Reid, LaDawn Myers, Kayla Parker, Latasha Spencer, Loris Holland, Robert Brookins, Robert Moe (background vocals); Joe Carter, Trevor Job.
Additional personnel: Gerald Albright (alto saxophone); Billy Preston (organ).
Although Howard Hewett is best known for his contributions to Shalamar (which he joined in 1979 and left in 1985), the R&B veteran has actually devoted a lot more time to his solo career. By 2007, Hewett had been performing as a solo artist for 22 years, whereas he only spent six years with Shalamar (not counting his contributions to some occasional Shalamar reunion gigs with Jeffrey Daniel and singer Carolyn Griffey in England in the 2000s). If Only... marks Hewett's return to secular R&B (after providing a few gospel-oriented albums), and this 2007 release is clearly among his more consistent solo efforts. One of the things that makes If Only... a creative success for Hewett (who turned 52 on October 1, 2007) is the fact that he is being true to himself throughout the album. Hewett doesn't jump through hoops trying to make this 56-minute disc relevant to the hip-hop-drenched R&B scene of 2007 -- there are no guest appearances by Jay-Z or 50 Cent -- and instead of fighting to sound modern, Hewett simply concentrates on delivering an old-fashioned soul album that emphasizes ballads and romantic slow jams. Tracks like "Is This True Love" and "I"ll Be Right Here" don't run away from being old-school; they embrace it, which is a good thing because If Only... always sounds natural rather than forced, awkward, or contrived. Despite its secular orientation, If Only... is not without spiritual concerns; Hewett sets "The Lord's Prayer" to music and has no problem putting an R&B spin on John Lennon's "Imagine" (which is not a religious song per se but does, to a degree, reflect Lennon's interactions with Srila Prabhupada and the Hare Krishna sect). Nonetheless, If Only... is a romantic soul album first and foremost, and it is an album that -- although not groundbreaking or terribly ambitious -- is bound to please those who like Hewett as a love-minded crooner. ~ Alex Henderson