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Contemporary vocal albums often prove to be the aural equivalent of televised political ads: slickly packaged and hollow to the core. Talented singers and producers strut their stuff in slavish fashion. They look and sound great, but . . . where are the songs? Houston’s Ideal are not immune to this trap on their recording debut. Treacly lyrics brim with teenage male posturing, and certain melodies usher the listener down a serpentine path to nowhere. Yet stripping away the studio sheen yields ample rewards: Ideal are not merely aping the trends of the day. Theirs is a mid-tempo soul groove all but devoid of dance bombastics. In their best moments, this R&B quartet achieves modern cool and reverence in the same breath. Ideal’s roots are with Linda and Cecil Womack, Maze, the Manhattans; they’re young (three of the four list PlayStation among their hobbies), but they get the difference between Stevie Wonder and Jamiroquai. When the songs deliver, particularly with the agile Maverick at the mike, the group generates genuine soul fire. Here’s hoping it lights their way to success. by Jeff McCord