Erykah Badu - Mama's Gun
Angie Stone - Mahogany Soul
D'Angelo - Voodoo
Kindred the Family Soul - Surrender to Love
Musiq - Juslisen
Okay so today was the announcement of Vocal Arts Month so what better way to dive in than playin some neo-soul from the turn of the millenium. These were albums that had primary space in my CD player at the time and before I learned the magic of MP3's.
I selected these rather randomly. I just went to directories where I knew the stuff I wanted to listen to would be and just let my eyes and mouse come over. This choice was off the beaten path but the rewards were so good. I never appreciated Ms. Badu's second studio album completely. It's only through off chances that I have realized how good it was. Mama's Gun was a phenomenal record. I skipped Penitentary Philosophy because it was a rocker and I didn't want to rock at that point. But quickly jumping through the J Dilla helmed My Life, ... & On, and Cleva, there was just so much cool vibe overflowing the room. After those tracks, every dose was easy to take. And when they were good, their satisfaction factor improved exponentially. The epic closer Green Eyes is a mini-suite with three movements. It begins with a bluesy jazz theme then moves into two much more contemporary soul grooves. She starts with a silly chanteuse song about jealousy that molds into a modern discussion over a dissolving relationship. Quite the experience.
Next up on the docket was Mahogany Soul from Angie Stone. I forgot how amazingly structured this album was. It was so good that my father even asked me for a copy and that's saying something for him. The best way to describe it is just what you would imagine a soul album in the early 70s would have sounded like. Funny enough Stone resembles a modern day Roberta Flack to some degree. Throughout the album, she comes with amazing grooves and vocals that never overpower but never shy away from the music either. From top to bottom it is just a treat to listen to.
Tracks to Check: Soul Insurance, Brotha, Snowflakes, Pissed Off, More Than A Woman, Wish I Didn't Miss You, The Ingredients of Love, Makings of You (Interlude)
I thought it would be cool to go from Angie to her baby daddy, D'Angelo. Now D'Angelo is a sad story. Basically the man who made it alright for labels to sign artists with that neo-soul sound, career derailed by drug addiction. His initial offering was Brown Sugar, a tight 10 song collection that drew upon soul, gospel, and even rock to baptize ears and probably brought about the birth of numerous children. The follow up was 5 years coming in Voodoo and it was obvious when one listened that Mr. Archer had gone more existential in his ideas. A lot of people didn't like Voodoo too much. Gone were the more neatly packaged love messages that populated Sugar, replaced with what sounds like jam session after jam session. That's probably what happened. D'Angelo and his pre-selected band would go into the lab and just kick around ideas, kinda like a old school jazz quartet. It helps when ?uestlove is your drummer, James Pyser is on keys, and Pino Palladino is playing bass for you. To this day, if I want to hear a D'Angelo record from start to finish, this is what I put on, even if it is not as singable. What he gives up in packaging, he makes up in just musicality. Roy Hargrove plays trumpet on the jazzy Spanish Joint and his reworking of Roberta Flack's Feel Like Makin' Love just grooves. The fact that the average length of the songs is over 5 minutes is a strength and not a detraction.
Tracks to Check: Well everything in order but specifically The Root, Spanish Joint, Greatdayndamornin'/Booty, Untitled (How Does It Feel?), Africa
That live instrument thing must have been influencing my brain cause the next stop was Kindred the Family Soul, a 7 member band fronted by a married couple who share vocals. Their first album, Surrender to Love, is an introduction to their daily life an dhow they operate. And it's obvious that they operate with a groove. Even the slow songs have a swaying element to them. Fatin maintains a gritty tenor voice and Aja has a rich yet airy soprano that brings tenderness and strength to each note she touches. The breakthrough on this album is Far Away, a moving jam if there ever was one. This song should have found itself on at least 5 black movie soundtracks, but sometimes what should happen doesn't always manifest itself. Amazing document to love anyway.
Tracks to Check: Rhythm of Life, Far Away, Stars, I Am
Last but not least was the recently rediscovered Juslisen from Musiq. I remember when I got this record. I was curious because I thought his first album might have been a fluke. Here he was dropping the Soulchild from his moniker and I just thought "someone got too full of themselves." But he really did surprise with this one. Its a much tighter and listenable album than the first one. The sequencing is phenomenal with an excellent balance of slow, mid-tempo, and quick grooves. Where I usually skip ballads, for some reason I am rendered helpless when listening to Musqiq. Not because the songs are so good, but they just fit right where they're supposed to. Another one of those albums that I had no trouble just leaving in and not fidgeting with the controls.
Tracks to Check: Newness, Religious, Realove, Dontchange, Future