Archives for posts with tag: Maxwell

Album Review: Black Messiah, D’Angelo and the Vanguard (RCA Records, 2014)

dangelo-black-messiahWhen D’Angelo’s Voodoo (Virgin Records) was released in 2000, it caused waves that resonated for years to come. Voodoo was highly anticipated because of the breakthrough success of his debut album, Brown Sugar (Virgin Records, 1995). D’Angelo had established a new lushness in the R&B space and was in the vanguard, alongside Erykah Badu and Maxwell, of what would be coined as “neo soul.”

Voodoo’s appeal was twofold. First, it was quite different from the smooth jazziness of Brown Sugar. Second, it was unapologetically sparse, raw, and rude.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, D’Angelo returns with Black Messiah, an album as innovative as Voodoo but also echoing its rawness. “The Door” features a simple beat and minimalistic production, including old time guitar sounds and, yes, whistling. Similarly, “Sugah Daddy” uses simple piano phrasing and clapping to lay down an addictive rhythm for D’Angelo to decorate with his ad lib.

The album also offers some more conventional soul tracks – “Another Life” and “Till It’s Done (Tutu).” D’Angelo’s vocal treatment render these a little more interesting than straight ahead soul revival.

Black Messiah has a third gear. Tracks like “Really Love” with flamenco influenced guitar and “The Charade,” which sounds more like a hit Prince track, show another side of D’Angelo, continuing to round out his sound, almost 20 years since he broke through.

Even in these early days of its release, it’s not a stretch to say that Black Messiah will have a lasting impact.  Inexplicably credited to D’Angelo and the Vanguard, one wonders who “the Vanguard” is. But it is perhaps an apt description of the musical space D’Angelo has occupied. What derivatives will follow this music from the vanguard? History proves, all we have to do is wait and see.

Related:

Takuya Kuroda, Rising Son – A recent Blue Note release heavily influenced by the beats and horn treatment on Voodoo

Jose James, It’s All Over Your Body – The opening track to James’ excellent debut on Blue Note, No Beginning, No End. Sonically, it is a faithful ode to Voodoo’s sound.

Album Review: Basementality 2, Amp Fiddler (self-released, 2014)

st5lI’m ashamed to admit that Amp Fiddler’s name had me confusing him with a certain Canadian bad-boy fiddler (yes, we have one of those) for the longest time. Not until I heard a track of his on Jason Palma’s excellent Higher Ground Radio show, did I clue in that Amp Fiddler is a completely (and mercifully) different artist.

Joseph “Amp” Fiddler is a Detroit based singer/songwriter with ivy league R&B/Soul credentials. His new EP, Basementality 2, features a renewed sound for the artist who has ranged from the smoothness of Maxwell to the funk of Parliament, where he was keyboardist for the better part of the 80s.

Basementality, like his prior recordings, features soulful vocals and great songwriting. What’s different with this release is the variety of styles, breaking from the confines of neo-soul and R&B. The second track, “Yeah!” has drum & bass influences with big horn arrangements. “Hold On” moves into dance territory. “More Than” is mellower but has an electronic influence that sets it apart.

Fiddler’s soul chops are still strong and his vocals bring a sincere warmth to each track. “Take It” also features a duet with neo soul poster boy, Raphael Saadiq.

I may have stumbled over Amp Fiddler later than most fans of R&B/Soul but I’m thankful for that. Taking him in with this new release gives me a better view of his breadth as an artist.

Amp Fiddler’s music is available on his bandcamp page.

Album Review: No Beginning No End, Jose James (Blue Note, 2013)

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When vocalist Jose James appeared on the scene some years ago with a guest spot on Jazzanova’s Of All the Things (Verve, 2008) and his solo debut, The Dreamer (Browswood, 2008), it was a matter of time before a massive breakthrough. Not since Maxwell, had we heard a male vocalist with R&B/Soul chops like these. In fact, James’ vocal styling is smoother than Maxwell’s. Almost everything he sings has a lullaby quality. Although this can be tiresome when overdone, No Beginning No End, strikes a nice balance between ballads, James’ greatest strength, and uptempo-yet-soulful tracks.

This is James’ debut on Blue Note Records. His prior release, Blackmagic (2010) also on Browswood, was much more heavily produced, apparently an attempt to break into the urban music mainstream. Although a nice album, I don’t think Blackmagic was the right fit for James. No Beginning No End, on the other hand, is the quintessential Jose James album both he and his fans deserve.

The production on this album is understated, letting James’ vocals speak for themselves. The compositions are more rudimentary, setting this collection up for some instant classics. “Vanguard” is a jazz number with R&B warmth. “Do You Feel” is a bluesy track with hints of Lou Rawls. “Heaven on the Ground” feating Emily King, is a Bossa inspired duet nicely delivered in both the acoustic and fully produced version included on the album.

The opening track, “It’s all over your body,” appears to be an ode to D’Angelo’s Voodoo album (Virgin, 2000). Adept as it is at mimicking D’Angelo’s unique sound from that album, it is an odd opener since I found myself waiting for the Jose James album to start.

No Beginning No End is an apt title for this solid release. Varied song selections, warm but subtle R&B production, and James’ vocals make this an endlessly listenable album, easily left on infinite loop.