The Preacher's Son opens with second-tier monarch-of-comedy Steve Harvey gushing about the universal appeal of Wyclef Jean's music, which seems a little incongruous, considering that the comedian devoted much of his Original Kings Of Comedy appearance to rap-bashing. Then again, Jean's latest album doesn't contain a lot of rapping. The guitar-loving singer-songwriter has regularly blurred the line between singing and rapping, but on his fourth solo disc, he pretty much leaves the rapping to ringers like Scarface, Redman, and Rah Digga. Harvey's comments also make sense: The Preacher's Son is a hip-hop album for people who don't much like rap. With its corny story-songs, sugary ballads, superficial social consciousness, prominent guitar parts, and guest appearances from the likes of Patti LaBelle, The Edge, and Carlos Santana, it's an album more likely to appeal to the C. Dolores Tuckers of the world than to kids weaned on 2Pac, Eminem, and 50 Cent. Jean's ambition and eclecticism are admirable as ever, but the further he strays from his hip-hop roots, the less vital he seems. After a promising solo start, the ex-Fugee traveled a downward trajectory before bottoming out with last year's Masquerade, which sunk into self-parody. The Preacher's Son marks the first time one of Jean's solo albums has improved on its immediate predecessor, but it's still far from a success. Essentially an ambitious, reggae-inflected R&B disc, The Preacher's Son pulls out all the stops early on, dishing out a tribute to dead rappers ("Industry"), a back-in-the-day slice of nostalgia (the LaBelle-assisted "Celebrate"), and a single ("Party To Damascus") trafficking in two of rap's hottest trends: Eastern sounds and faux-Timbaland production. Jean has thankfully reined in some of his worst tendencies, but he's boxed himself into a corner professionally, because at this point, genre-hopping eclecticism is mere business as usual. Wyclef Jean loves defying expectations, but he seems to have run out of surprises, and for all its catchy melodies and abundant ideas, The Preacher's Son sounds like the work of an artist who desperately needs to reinvent himself.