Robert Townsend’s film about the rise and fall of a black vocal group is as stagy and hokey as anything since Grease. But the movie comes close to working anyway because Townsend has such passsion for the music. This soundtrack presents a survey of black vocal-group styles from the doo-wop ’50s to the dance-driven ’70s. Almost all the songs on The Five Heartbeats: Music From the Motion Picture are new, performed by a number of groups, including the Heartbeats, the surprisingly smooth-sounding actors from the movie. The heart of the album comes from the Dells, the Chicago soul veterans on whose career much of the story is based. They offer two magnificent tracks, the thundering opener, ”A Heart Is a House for Love,” and the group’s real-life biggest hit, ”Stay in My Corner.” The rest of the record includes everything from a gospel praise song, ”I Feel Like Going On,” to the slickly re-created ’70s disco-soul of ”Are You Ready for Me.” Best of all the new numbers is the Heartbeats’ ”In the Middle,” on which lead singer Demetrius Harvey captures the genuine passion soul singers bring to their art. There’s nothing new here — but soul’s premise is that the deep tribulations of the human heart are eternal. On that score, these 10 tracks are fully convincing. B+

The Five Heartbeats
  • Movie
  • 121 minutes