Soft rock/smooth soul synthesist Tim van Berkestijn had a quietly momentous 2018. His collaboration with Rex Orange County, "Loving Is Easy," snuck into Billboard's Alternative Songs chart and bounced within it for ten weeks. The Amsterdam native's U.S. profile continued to rise with his signing to Stones Throw, the November announcement of which was synchronized with the release of "Passionfruit," a revamp of the Drake hit, not -- as some longtime listeners might have expected -- a medley of tunes from Michael Franks' like-titled album. Two months earlier, van Berkestijn had released his sixth studio album as Benny Sings, City Melody, only in Japan. It forms the basis of his first Stones Throw LP, sporting a revised title that works on multiple levels. City Pop was recorded in Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and most importantly, Tokyo, and shares its name with a late-'70s/early-'80s J-pop subgenre described by supreme connoisseur and Benny Sings contemporary Ed Motta as "AOR and soft rock but with some funk and boogie." Like the artists Motta showcased on his city pop mixes for Wax Poetics, van Berkestijn favors soft rock's openly R&B- and jazz-indebted faction, and uses an assortment of sweet and mellow sounds -- his most organic variety yet -- to underpin his expressions of longing, resolve, and frustration regarding romance. The best of the bunch, including the Mayer Hawthorne-assisted "Not Enough" and the Doobie Brothers-Todd Rundgren compound "Late at Night," can put a tear in your eye and a dip in your hip. The mood subtly lifts on a few occasions, such as the easygoing "Summerlude" and the Cornelius collaboration "My World," a tender lullaby addressed to van Berkestijn's daughter. Moreover, the album concludes shrewdly with the Tokyo version of "Softly" -- originally a City Melody bonus track -- the set's brightest, most direct, and warm-hearted moment, with several Japanese instrumentalists among van Berkestijn's support. What doesn't stick elsewhere at least charms with unbidden sincerity.
- AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman