One of the most extraordinary things about growing up in the nineties was the music. R&B groups were all the rage and I want to take you all back to 1992 when a vocal quartet by the name of Portrait released their self–titled debut, via Capital records. Encompassing group members Michael Angelo Saulsberry, Irving Washington III, Eric Kirkland, and Philip Johnson, the group already had production credits & backing vocals to their names after working with label mate Suavé on the track “Rocked Your Boots.” In addition to their singing talent, the group members also played instruments on their debut and produced it themselves, with member Michael Angelo Saulsberry stirring the ship.
Fueled with their lead single “Here We Go Again,” is the one that most will remember, in part due to the group’s cameo appearance on the “Stormy Weather” episode of the classic sitcom Family Matters. Set to an infectious groove and featuring a lush four-part harmony by the group, “Here We Go Again” is a song by itself that slays some singer’s entire catalogs who debuted after the group. I’m sure everyone can relate to the lyrics in the song when you’re having relationship issues.
When the second single “Honey Dip,” arrived Portrait was ready to make a name for themselves in the R&B game. Group member Philip Johnson leads the song with a confidence well beyond his years, while his groupmate Michael Angelo Saulsberry produces the track with a groove that would feel right at home on an album by The Whispers. I can only imagine how crazy the club scene was when disc jockeys played this track. Other up-tempo and club-ready songs on the album include “Commitment,” “You,” and “Down Wit Dat.”
Though for me it’s the album’s slow jams that I hold the album in such high regard and often revisit it, the ballads begin at track number five with the smooth interlude “Passion.” With a brief run time of fifty-two seconds, it’s the perfect set up for the next two songs, both of which are two of my favorites from 1992. Up first is the lush “On and On,” featuring a killer saxophone solo by Gerald Albright. Philip Johnson leads the song with backing from the rest of the fellas. What I love about the music is the group’s ability to express sensuality and set the mood while avoiding the usual vulgarity.
“Precious Moments,” which also made an appearance on the soundtrack to the film Zebrahead, follows. The track is the essence of making love for the first time in the nineties. Like its predecessor, “Precious Moments,” avoids crass lyrics and is a must-add for your nineties slow jam playlist. After touching on intimacy, the group highlights the facets of heartbreak with “Day By Day.”
From the moment Irving Washington III opens the song with “As I Look in the mirror, I see the pain inside,” you instantly feel this brother’s pain. When Philip Johnson comes in with his swagger while crooning “There Will Never be another to feel the Passion in Me,” I was immediately reminded of the chemistry between Johnny Gill & Ralph Tresvant on “Can You Stand the Rain.”
“Yours Forever”, with Eric Kirkland on lead, closes out the ballad portion of the album, and this is one that I always felt was tailor made for the radio as a summer time single. The track is a beautiful song reminiscent of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s harmonious production for Alexander O’Neal and once again, the group shows off impeccable harmonies.
While I consider the group’s follow-up album All That Matters to be their magnum opus, Portrait’s 1992 debut is a fantastic one. Group member Michael Angelo Saulsberry, who doesn’t get his just due as a producer and writer after over thirty years in the music industry, was well ahead of his time with his production work on the project. In addition, the remaining group members Irving Washington III, Eric Kirkland, and Philip Johnson all provide top notch singing.
Whether you need a song to bump while heading out to the club with the fellas or a track to set the mood with your lady, Portrait’s self-titled album has something for everyone.
Final Grade A –
Best songs: “Honey Dip” “Here We Go Again”! “On & On,” “Precious Moments,” “Day By Day,” and “Yours Forever”
Portrait’s debut album is available on all streaming platforms