Young At Heart

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the current wave (some might say glut) of teen-centric pop is the lack of a true adolescent vibe. The artists in question may be under the legal drinking age, but their image and subject matter are light years away from the very idea of youthful. Moreover, few of these performers sound as if they're really having much fun. The joyful abandon and limitless possibilities that are part of what being a young person is supposed to be all about have somehow passed them by on the long, hard road to TRL.

Maybe it's because he's a bit younger than some of his cohorts, or maybe it's because he doesn't have to learn all that choreography and dress like four other guys, or maybe it's because he can pattern himself after Michael Jackson rather than Mariah Carey. But whatever the reasons may be, on his delightful solo debut, 13-year-old Sammie [Bush] sounds as if he is truly having fun. A lot of fun. Blessed with one of those boy-about-to-become-a-man tenors (a la MJ in his "Ben" phase), a down-to-earth persona and a set of first-rate, smart and slickly produced tracks (courtesy of Dallas Austin, whose career began with teen act ABC) Sammie gives back to teen pop what's been missing from the genre for some time: its innocence.

Granted, that innocence doesn't come at the expense of a good, nasty groove. On the dirty-South-flavored rump shakers, "The Bottom" (RealAudio excerpt) and his number one single, "I Like It" (RealAudio excerpt), this Florida native proves that even if you're too young to sneak into a strip joint, you can still bring the funk and a G-rated swagger that straddles the man/child gulf with taste and tunefulness. And it's not like Sammie croons about lollipops and Nintendo: on the midtempo "Crazy Things I Do" (RealAudio excerpt), with its half-step rhythms and hooky chorus, he testifies about yes, the girl of his dreams. Yet it's done in a joyous, first-love manner, with the raw sexuality that is (sorry) way too blatant for most youngsters to handle, thankfully kept way on the back burner (where it belongs).

You gotta love any kid who dedicates songs to his parents and who sings about his mom with the same passion that he sings about that cute hottie in the lunch room. With Austin's production flair for cooking up catchy, pop-infused neo-soul, little Sammie warrants the love and praise he has already received. With a debut this sweet and satisfying, his future burns bright.