Ledisi unleashes more contemporary R&B moments on The Truth
Ledisi • The Truth • Verve • US Release Date: March 11, 2014
Ledisi Young is one of more talented R&B singers of present times, period. Honestly, the 41-year old artist has nothing short of extraordinary, soulful pipes; the passion translates easily. Even so, being talented doesn’t necessarily convert to exceptional commercial fortunes, as numerous artists – particularly urban artists – know all too well. Ledisi did manage to debut in the top ten of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart when 2012 LP Pieces of Me bowed at number eight with 36,000 copies sold. How her sixth studio album The Truth will ultimately be received commercially after it’s all said and done is questionable, but critically, The Truth is another well-conceived effort from the singer. In fact, Ledisi opts for more contemporary R&B tunes here, something of a departure. Don’t get it twisted, she’s not suddenly morphed into Beyoncé, but Ledisi keeps things fresh.
“I Blame You” opens with album with an adult contemporary R&B sound, not completely dissimilar stylistically to “Pieces of Me” or much of her previous album of the same title as a whole. It isn’t until the bridge of “I Blame You” that shades of jazziness appear into the picture, where the harmonic progression truly drives the sentiment. Vocally a ‘beast’, Ledisi is always most potent when she kicks into her soaring upper register, something she does here to bring home the accusatory opener. Nearly matching the level of quality, “Rock With You” is the first notion of more contemporary fare from Ledisi. It’s not quite the tour de force of the opener, but its well produced and does give the artist a different look.
“That Good Good” is even more of a stretch stylistically, employing gimmickry from the onset, also conveyed through repetitious lyrics: “I’m the type of woman, woman, woman…” A legitimate question asked while listening to this is, has Ledisi ever sung over an 808 before? Where this is or isn’t her first time, “That Good Good” ends up being more effective than one would expect judging Ledisi’s earlier work. Even if one is secretly thinking “sellout”, there is plenty of excellent, sassy lyrical moments to absorb, whether it’s “I’m the type of woman / know what she wants and / ain’t afraid to say what I need” (Verse one) or “Your time your touch boy give me that affection / I need your attention” (pre-chorus). Honestly, since Ledisi is referencing lovemaking, is a grooving banger so far-fetched? If it is, the slower, seductive “Lose Control” is more of Ledisi’s niche – artistic lane if you will. She’s still talking about sex, but she’s classier on “Lose Control”. Hey, she’s a grown woman!
“Like This” switches gears to a more neo-soul approach, with the throwback vibe perfectly suiting the singer. Even though it references the past it is no anachronism; it still retains hipness. In addition to a sub-style switch, Ledisi also trades the physical for the emotional side of the relationship: “I can’t love you like this…when we argue like this… I can’t love you like this.” Again, Ledisi let’s her upper register shines and cut through exceptionally on her ad-libs. Neo-soul doesn’t last for long as “Anything” shockingly begins with enthusiastic synths – unexpected by all means. While the synths are off-putting on a Ledisi album, eventually things settle in. Again, the ‘look’ is fresh, giving Ledisi a pop-R&B vibe. “Anything” isn’t the cream of the crop of The Truth, but its no deal-breaker either. If nothing else, there are some special lyrical highlights, most notably “Love means anyone who tries to curse you / by default they’re cursing me too.” Oh and the electric guitar solo is definitely on-point.
Titular track “The Truth” is worth the wait, landing at number seven on the track list. “The Truth” benefits from its production, which includes synthesized vocal synths at the onset. The harmonic underpinnings also make “The Truth” special, particularly the colorful quirks. And what is the truth – “I don’t wanna be lonely / don’t wanna spend a lifetime to make you mine / it’s time to face the truth / the truth about me and you…” “Missy Doubt” is definitely interesting, giving the singer an in your face sort of a track. Ledisi does awesomely with funk, though “Missy Doubt” isn’t a personal favorite. Conceptually though, Ledisi has something working here despite slightly flawed execution.
“88 Boxes” more than atones for the question marks left proceeding “Missy Doubt”. If “Missy Doubt” had a good concept going, “88 Boxes” has an even better one. Basically, Ledisi feels as if her relationship – her life – has become nothing but boxed-up memories. It’s over and it’s done – she wasted her time. “88 Boxes I counted / my life it went from years to 88 boxes,” Ledisi sings on the chorus. If The Truth were lacking in innovative spirit, “88 Boxes” infuses some using familiar, authentic scenarios. “Can’t Help Who You Love” ends the album solidly, but certainly is a shade less enthralling than opening punch “I Blame You” or the top echelon of The Truth. Still, the messaging is relatable: “You can’t help who you love / the heart’s just got a brain of its own.”
Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement. Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much. Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist. Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either. Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again. We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.
“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”
Aloe Blacc • Lift Your Spirit • Interscope • US Release Date: March 11, 2014
R&B singer Aloe Blacc is not in his first rodeo; he had an outstanding single out in 2010 entitled “I Need A Dollar” that should have foreshadowed what was to come. Still, things only break for an artist when it’s the right time, and 2013-14 has proven to be the 35-year old singer’s time. Two gargantuan singles have truly given Blacc ‘wings to fly’ on his third album, Lift Your Spirit: “Wake Me Up” (Aviici) and “The Man”.
The momentum that is on his side – specifically crossover success into pop from urban music – carries over into this overall fine ‘introduction’. Sure, the singer, who has been associated with the Stones Throw label, has previously release two albums, but for many, this is their first impression of Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III. That impression is a favorable one ultimately.
“The Man” is nothing short of enthusiastic and proves to be a sensational opening cut. “Girl you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man,” Blacc sings passionately on the pre-chorus, before proclaiming “I got all the answers to your questions / I’ll be the teacher you could be the lesson…” on the chorus. The throwback vibe hearkening back to R&B’s prime just makes “The Man” that much greater. Throw in the lifted “Your Song” sample (Elton John) and soulful vocals from Blacc and “Everything is Sound” (Jason Mraz song reference FYI). The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” keeps things moving exceptionally well, again relying on the inspiration of the past. Sure Williams’ typical production cues are in play, but he doesn’t mess with the soulful script. In fact, “Love Is The Answer” sounds quite comparable to Williams’ own retro savvy on his own album G I R L. The chivalrous nature of “Love Is The Answer” is nothing short of admirable (“Just look around the whole wide world / so many beautiful things to see / take my hand and come along spread love with me.”).
“Wake Me Up (Acoustic)” is well placed given the popularity of the original Aviici single from True. Still, the argument against what essentially is a reprisal is that “Wake Me Up” has experienced its peak already, so why feature it once more? There is nothing wrong with the acoustic version – it’s a quality recording – but moving forward beyond the track also wouldn’t have hurt Blacc in the least. “Here Today” may not be among the best, but what is notable about it is that here specifically, Blacc truly channels the sound of Bill Withers. Whether it is intentional influence or not, “Here Today” shows the beauty of Blacc’s pipes. Additionally, much like the incredibly popular “The Man”, “Here Today” can pass off as an R&B or pop single. On “Can You Do This”, the sound is likened to Bruno Mars’s soulful throwback joint “Runaway”. They are clearly two different songs by different artists, but the sound is a modern day capture of retro-soul. Halfway through, things still remain ‘all good’ overall.
“Chasing” sports another funky groove and contrasts “Can You Do This” with a slower tempo. The use of horns adds another dimension, truly accentuating the song. The refrain is a ‘feel good’ one with Blacc singing of “girls chasing the boys” and so on. One specific highlighting moment is when the groove switches briefly to reggae, which is a sound contrast to the rest. “Chasing” isn’t revolutionary (nothing is on this album), but it is definitely one of the singer’s best songs. “The Hand Is Quicker” doesn’t lose a bit of momentum, with a hard, stomping groove and magnificent use of electric guitar, horns, and organ. Retro-soul is written all over this cut, with the backing vocals truly sealing the deal. “You know the hand / is quicker than the eye,” sings Blacc on the refrain, “Sometimes the truth / ain’t no better than a lie.” The sweetest spot of Blacc’s voice – when he ascends into his upper register.
“Ticking Bomb” is a treat; it contrasts its contemporaries on Lift Your Spirit and possesses certain intensity about it. Soulful, clear, and nuanced vocals by Blacc continue to be the story of the LP; he’s a man on fire. What’s equally remarkable is the fact that Blacc never over sings, giving just the right amount to draw the desired effect. “Red Velvet Seal” truly buys into vintage soul with its six-eight groove, a common cue of classic soul. Though the two songs are unrelated by all means, “Red Velvet Seal” hearkens back to Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” given its over sound and feel. “Red Velvet Seal” is a strong penultimate track, even if it just misses the glory and notability of the top echelon. “Owe It All” provides the album’s obligatory spiritual cut, with Blacc thanking God for everything. An appropriate closer, the enjoyable “Owe It All” caps off a soundly conceived R&B album.
Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout. It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.
“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”
After much delay, Candice Glover finally delivers her debut album
Candice Glover • Music Speaks • 19 • US Release Date: February 18, 2014
Honestly, it seemed like an urban-sounding artist might never win American Idol again, let alone a female contestant after a string of victorious males. Candice Glover became the first female victor since Jordin Sparks, though bad timing kind of killed her vibe. Glover was brilliant throughout a season where everything seemed dead WRONG. The judges’ panel lacked chemistry (and sometimes tact) while many of the contestants seemed, um, blasé. The ratings were down and despite a set summer 2013 release for Glover’s debut, it was pushed back to the Fall. After being pushed back to the Fall, well, the album again was pushed back… until 2014. Finally, Glover delivers Music Speaks to her fans. Unfortunately, what little buzz surrounded her or the show seems nearly mute, and winning single “I Am Beautiful” doesn’t even make the album cut. Still as Lupe Fiasco would say, “The Show Goes On” and Glover definitely shows she has considerable talent throughout Music Speaks.
Promo single “Cried” opens Music Speaks incredibly. A well-written, heart-wrenching track (co-written by R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan), “Cried” showcases the power, finesse, and nuance of Glover’s voice. As far as being a single that truly elevates Glover to stardom or commercial aspirations, “Cried” is likely not the answer. Another minor rub against the notable cut is its specific placement within the track list; perhaps it could’ve been even more effective elsewhere besides the opener. Regardless, Glover gives her all on the incredibly underrated single.
“Die Without You” isn’t a shabby follow-up in the least, sporting a “cool, calm, and collected” sensibility about it. “Die Without You” succeeds at being both modern yet old school. “Die Without You” has enough swagger that it falls in line with the tenets of adult contemporary R&B, but also has that ‘grown folks’ sexiness (“I’d die without you”). If there is one nitpick, it is that Glover could have even freed her voice more on the ad-libs. Still, that falsetto towards the end is pretty sweet. Two tracks in, Glover is on the right track.
“Same Kinda Man” benefits from its retro-soul production, which proves to be a perfect fit for Glover. Glover feels as if she’s found her niche here; it doesn’t seem far-fetched that she’s an old soul. Something about the ambience of horns and a compelling, powerhouse voice makes “Same Kinda Man” extremely appealing. “Damn” is equally captivating, even if the full production of “Same Kinda Man” is traded for a more stripped, piano-driven backdrop. Regardless of less instrumentation, Glover truly sells the “I love another woman’s man” narrative. Sure, the concept is ‘tried-and-true’, if not completely cliché, but even if Glover doesn’t seem to be the type to experience what she sings of, it’s still a treat. “Damn, damn, damn / I fell in love with someone else’s man,” she sings on the simplistic, but addictive chorus. So far, so good for Candice Glover.
“Passenger” from a first listen comes off a bit of a bore; its length certainly doesn’t help either. After a couple of spins though, the adult contemporary track has some magic about it, specifically the chorus (“I’ll be your passenger / I’ll go where you want me too / I’ll let you navigate / just let me ride with you”). By the end, Glover’s rousing ad-libs certainly atone for any miscues. Perhaps it isn’t quite as ‘elite’ as the opening quartet; “Passenger” is another solid, love joint. “Forever That Man” and “Kiss Me” also lack the same fire/intensity of the opening tracks. Both are solid listens ultimately, but they don’t necessarily separate Glover from other artists in the same vein. “Forever That Man” gives Glover a pop-oriented ballad, which does at least open the door for crossover appeal. Even so, it isn’t quite a perfect match. “Kiss Me” lacks a bit of excitement, though Glover certainly performs it well.
“In The Middle” is a surprise once it begins playing, particularly following somewhat more conservative cuts like the trio preceding it. The interpolation of “Ting A Ling” is obvious, but it definitely works contextually. If anything, compared to the previous three cuts, “In The Middle” has more sass and personality. Worth noting is that former American Idol champ Fantasia serves as a co-writer. The personality of “In The Middle” also translates onto “Coulda Been Me”, a six-eight cut using some chopped-n-screwed vocals for flavor. Don’t worry folks; Glover’s talented pipes remain intact and flawless.
Penultimate cut “Thank You” has a vintage nature about it, given its main idea and production, but it shows Glover truly in her ‘zone’. Like “Cried”, “Thank You” may not be the lift to propel Glover to commercial success, but it is definitely enjoyable and inspiring. “Love Song”, Glover’s ‘ace in the hole’ on American Idol, concludes the brief 11 track affair. The performance is solid, but similar to Fantasia’s cover of “Summertime” is a performance that just can’t be perfectly replicated in the studio setting. Still, “Love Song” caps off Music Speaks sincerely and appropriately.
Ultimately how does Glover’s Music Speaks stack up comparatively to former Idol debut albums? It’s respectable, though not classic. There is enough solid material and magnificent vocals from Glover to make the album sound and enjoyable, but there is nothing that makes it a contemporary masterpiece. The greatest pro in regards to Music Speaks is its potential; that potential is certainly grand.
“Cried”; “Die Without You”; “Same Kinda Man”; “Damn”; Thank You”
Toni Braxton and Babyface make some sweet, classy music on Love Marriage & Divorce
Toni Braxton & Babyface • Love Marriage & Divorce • Motown • US Release Date: February 4, 2014
There’s just something special when two R&B veterans collaborate together. Honestly, when your career has past its peak, why not come together and try to rekindle the magic – after all, isn’t two better than one? Adult contemporary R&B artists Toni Braxton and Babyface definitely have a special thing going on with their collaborative album, Love Marriage & Divorce. Both are past their prime as R&B ‘royalty’ (Babyface still relatively popular as a producer and songwriter), but on this classy effort, both offer nothing short of their best vocally. Love Marriage & Divorce isn’t ‘new’ in the ‘fresh’ sense, but Braxton and Babyface definitely flex their seasoned R&B muscles, which may be more relevant at this point. And innovation aside, many can at least relate to one of the three words of the title, right? Right!
“Roller Coaster” opens Love Marriage & Divorce, setting the adult contemporary R&B tone. The production is pleasant, without being overdone in the least. Babyface leads the charge on the verses, with Braxton completing them (think pre-chorus). The memorable refrain unifies the standout: “When love is like a roller coaster / always up and down / when love takes over / your emotion spins you ‘round and ‘round…when love is like a roller coaster.” Ultimately, Braxton and Babyface end up being a perfect match for one another, sporting sound vocal chemistry.
“Sweat” proceeds, featuring conservative production work that is refined; the sound is smooth and nothing too flashy. Again, Babyface initiates the vocals, while Braxton settles for the back half of the verses and drives the refrain home. “Sweat” is as close as the duo gets to ‘sex’, masking its sensuality through suggestiveness in the ‘grown-folks’ style. This classy approach is appreciated and a departure in contemporary music, something many younger artists could benefit from – subtlety. Little feels risqué with the duo handling lyrics like “So if you really wanna fight / we could take it to the bed tonight (let’s sweat it out) / and if you really wanna scream, I can make you scream tonight (let’s sweat it out)”. Perhaps if R. Kelly were performing it, well that would be a different matter completely. Not as notable as the opener, “Sweat” isn’t too shabby either.
“Hurt You” benefits from its pacing, taking its time to settle in. In other words, the second verse is more developed than the first musically, which eliminates predictability, had “Hurt You” revealed all the cards early. The alternating vocals on the refrain are a nice touch from the duo, giving “Hurt You” more personality and oomph. As far as songwriting, “Hurt You” is one of the very best. The bridge exemplifies this sentiment: “Can we start over again / can we start baby as friends / give you one more try / the tender kisses you give to me/ would be the only thing I ever need”. “Where Did We Go Wrong?” follows “Hurt You, proving to be equally notable. The clarity of vocals from both artists is stunningly beautiful. Babyface’s falsetto sounds as pure as ever. He sounds as if he’s not aged a bit. Like everything else, “Where Did We Go Wrong?” is smooth and refined.
Babyface and Toni Braxton each take a solo track following “Where Did We Go Wrong?”. Both are well done in their own right, if not necessarily standouts. “I Hope You’re Okay” is Babyface’s sole solo track, with the legendary R&B singer/songwriter sounding incredibly positive and chivalrous on the mid-tempo cut. Babyface’s light and agile vocals are perfectly suited for such a cut. On “I Wish”, the sound contrasts, with Braxton wishing for her ex to suffer as much if not more than she did at his hands. The piano accompaniment serves as perfect inspiration for Braxton to ‘tell it like it is.’ Both songs show off the respective strengths of each, though “I Hope That You’re Okay” might get the slightest edge over “I Wish”.
“Take It Back” finds the duo reconvening. The results are positive once again, though “Take It Back” suffers a bit too much from its sameness. The sentiment here is that a bit more differentiation could’ve made this particular cut more exciting. “Reunited” is stronger, a song about reconnecting and rekindling the love. Braxton drives home the bridge, which leads to a dramatic key change. By the close, Braxton and Babyface have ‘let loose’, pouring their emotions into this cut. Braxton takes another solo spot on “I’d Rather Be Broke”, arguably even better than “I Wish”. Still, Braxton has been shaken up by her love troubles, singing “I’d rather be broke then with you…” Sure it’s simple, but the message that ‘there’s nothing worse than a woman scorned’ is easily conveyed.
Penultimate track “Heart Attack” might be the best of the entire album. Up-tempo with a mix of adult contemporary R&B and neo-disco, “Heart Attack” is easily the most unique number if nothing more. It certainly doesn’t sound ‘old’, an argument that could be posed in regards to some of the other album tracks. Babyface handles the verses, with Braxton handling the addictive refrain: “You know you want me back / you up here ‘bout to have a heart attack / you know you know you know you want it bad / that’s why you ‘bout to have a heart attack.” “The D Word” can’t match the intensity of “Heart Attack”, but it is an appropriate closer, tackling the divorce aspect of Love Marriage & Divorce. “I put the papers on your doorstep,” sings Babyface on the first verse. “The keys under the mat / although the lawyer said to mail you / I’m still not over it.” All about the pain of divorce and losing someone special, “The D Word” puts a cap on a solid album.
All in all, Love Marriage & Divorce is a pleasant R&B album. It’s not what you might pen as an innovative tour de force, but it is very well done overall. Vocally, both Braxton and Babyface sound incredible, particularly being past their artistic peaks. It likely isn’t an album that will appeal to the present generation of R&B listeners who prefer more eclecticism and hip-hop stirred in, but for the traditionalist and ‘grown folks’, Love Marriage & Divorce should be right up their alley.
“Roller Coaster”; “Hurt You”; “Where Did We Go Wrong?”; “Heart Attack”
Algebra Blessett • Recovery • eOne • US Release Date: January 28, 2014
Stating that R&B has cooled considerably in recent times would be an gigantic understatement. When Beyoncé shocked the world in December 2013 with her surprise fifth LP, she definitely gave the entire genre a much need pick-me-up. Until Beyoncé, no other R&B album had been certified platinum in 2013…that’s sad. In 2014, who knows what the struggles face the ailing genre, which has plenty of talented, often under recognized musicians to keep it breathing. Among those is Algebra Blessett, who returns with her sophomore album, Recovery. Although Recovery is Blessett’s second album, one has look all the way back to 2008 to find her debut, Purpose (Kedar). Essentially then, Recovery is a reintroduction (and introduction to some) of the adult contemporary R&B-oriented artist. Ultimately, Recovery soundly accomplishes this task, delivering an effort detailing the ups and downs of recovering from a broken heart.
“Exordium To Recovery (Give My Heart A Chance)” opens Recovery with a soulful interlude. For those curious, an exordium is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition.” In this case, Algebra is setting the tone for her recovery from a broken heart. Segueing from the intro, “Recovery” finds the singer reflecting on past love pains. Despite the hardships though, Algebra is optimistic on the refrain: “I won’t lie, it’s not easy / it was harder than you think / the road back to recovery / I say it’s time to prepare / for love is out there / on my road to recovery”. Exceptionally produced, “Recovery” is a superb start to the album of the same title.
“Right Next To You” has a tough act to follow, but it’s none too shabby. Here, Algebra longs to be right there with her man, literally. It’s the typical love song of yearning and desire. Even if the theme has been played out over and over, it’s hard to get tired of love, right? On “Nobody But You”, Algebra’s vocals are clear as a bell and incredibly nuanced. The groove is soulful, yet contemporary at the same time. Algebra’s swagger and personality truly makes “Nobody But You” a well-rounded winner. The fat bass line doesn’t hurt the cause either. “Struggle To Be”, a duet with Q. Parker (of 112) is yet another winning moment, lush in it’s production and the richness of the vocals on both ends. The backing vocals are a nice touch, further augmenting the plushness about this cut. The theme is all about struggling to be a “good girl”/ “good man” to each other. It’s definitely no struggle to listen to.
In another interlude (“Augment To Recovery (Give My Heart A Chance)”), continues reflect upon her recovery from her badly broken heart. Here, Algebra’s goal is to make her recovery greater. She follows her recovery augmentation with “Forever”, a cut where Algebra plans to “love [him] forever.” Although in a minor key, Algebra’s dedication is incredibly impassioned and legit. On follow-up “Writer’s Block”, the track opens with Algebra struggling to find the write words – intact with crumbled paper sound effects. Eventually, she arrives at the “right words” contextually, despite her ‘writer’s block’.
On “Paper Heart”, Algebra’s heart has been broken, yet she seems to want the same person who did the breaking to also repair it: “And I became your paper heart / to get scribbled on and ripped and torn from your love … it’s more than I can handle, I’m fragile / so take care of my paper heart”. A second interpretation is that Algebra anticipates the results of a newfound love foreseeing similar results to a disappointing relationship in the past. Regardless, the lyrics seem to find the ‘recovery’ to be in very much in question: “Baby boil me up and shoot for three / if you make the shot, say you’ll come back to me”. “Paper Heart” may have a mixed perception in regards to love, but it yields no such reception in the context of Recovery itself; it’s a brilliant showing.
“Danger Zone” continues to depict the scary aspects of love; essentially it is a ‘risk for reward’ type of situation. It’s not unlike the tenor of the entirety of the effort where Algebra is torn between the fear of a repeat of the ills versus atonement with a true, dedicated love. Like everything else, “Danger Zone” is thoughtfully composed, well performed, and well produced. “Mystery” proceeds, with Algebra still very guarded about the rededication of her to a new relationship. The narrative is genuine and realistic, the production throwback (neo-soul/adult contemporary R&B mix), and Algebra’s voice fantastic.
The final three cuts from Recovery confirm it is a process with its ups and downs. “Another Heartache” is exactly what it says it is. Algebra delivers it tugging at the heartstrings with its torture of love gone amiss. On “Better For Me”, the singer reflects on the past – what was and what could’ve been. Ultimately, she arrives at the conclusion that it is better to move on. On the slow concluding cut “I’ll Be Ok”, even though Algebra’s currently ‘bruised’, she takes the high road, knowing she’ll make it through the pain. In relation to the album’s narrative, “I’ll Be Ok” is a fitting end.
All said and done, Recovery is a fine R&B album, particularly to be released in a quiet January. There is a classiness and coolness about this effort that is appealing. Algebra never over sings; she always gives just the right amount of oomph and emotion to connect with the audience. Recovery is nothing flashy, but it doesn’t need to be. It is what it is – a narrative that a many of folk have experienced in real life, not merely an R&B album. Kudos Algebra – kudos.
“Recovery”; “Nobody But You”; “Struggle To Be” featuring Q. Parker; “Paper Heart”; “Mystery”
The Weeknd Sticks With the Formula With Less Notable Results
The Weeknd⎪ Kiss Land ⎪ Republic⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013
Alternative R&B generally is a fine outlet to keep the cooling genre of R&B alive. In a day and age where ‘neo-soul’ has fallen by the wayside and adult contemporary R&B can’t carry the torch alone, alt-R&B seems like the present answer to preserve respiration. Artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel, and The Weeknd have been the chief proponents of this movement. The Weeknd’s compilation effort Trilogy, showed the possibilities and the appeal of this nu-soul. On Kiss Land, The Weeknd continues in a similar vein, but not sans flaws. Kiss Land feels too spacey at times, where some extra definition and less self-indulgence might’ve boded well for The Weeknd.
“Professional” is an interesting way to start, sampling EMIKA’s “Professional Loving”. At first, The Weeknd’s reference to professionalism seems to be his newfound stardom, as highlighted lyrically throughout the intro (“…So you’re somebody now / but that’s a somebody in a nobody town / you made enough to quit a couple of years ago / but it consumes you / everywhere you go”). On the switch-up, the idea of professionalism seems to transform sexually, which isn’t unpredictable given The Weeknd’s dedication to such subject. All in all, it works, but “Professional” feels as if it could use one extra lift to truly propel it to another level.
“The Town” seems a bit more undercooked than “Professional”. Sure it’s druggy sounding and The Weeknd continues his mission (“I remember on the bathroom floor / before I went on tour / when you said we couldn’t do it again / cause you had a thing with another man…”), but even given the richness of his falsetto, he lacks the strength to deliver a truly captivating performance. He does better for himself on “Adaptation”, though it’s not without its rubs. “I lay my head on a thousand beds / it’s been a test to see how far a man / can go without himself…”, he sings reflectively on verse one. The chorus is more telling though: “But I chose the lie / I chose the life / then I realized / she might have been the one / I let it go / for a little fun / I made a trade / gave away our days / for a little fame / Now I’ll never see your face / but it’s okay I adapted anyway”. The Weeknd gets added swag points with his ad libs toward the end.
By “Love in The Sky”, The Weeknd seems to have his stuff together, delivering one of the album’s best. He’s in top-notch form when he delivers widely interpretable lines such as “There’s no one inside / but you’re free to relax / if you commit to this ride / there’s no turning back…” Sure, he could be going for high level thinking, but it seems he definitely wants you to catch his innuendo. If it’s not clear on “Love in The Sky”, it definitely is on the follow-up cut, “Belong To The World”. “I’m not a fool / I just love that you’re dead inside… I’m not a fool, I’m just lifeless too…” Okay. Most interesting is when it’s obvious The Weeknd is referring to a stripper (“Oh girl, I know I should leave you / and learn to mistreat you / cause you belong to the world / and ooh girl, I want to embrace you / domesticate you / but you belong to the world…”).
Personally, “Live For” seems like something of a wasted opportunity. The hook is simple as is the overall theme: “This the sh*t that I live for, this the sh*t that I live for / this the sh*t that I live for, with the people I’d die for…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve heard this about a bajillion times. Still, The Weeknd asserts his ‘swag’ (“I’m in my city in the summer / Camo’d out, leather booted / kissing b**ches in the club…”) while Drake steals the show (“Roll up in that thing, got h**s like Prince, but they know I’m King.” “Wanderlust” is stronger, sampling Fox the Fox (“Precious Little Diamond”). Again, it’s not perfect, but you can’t deny the humor and truth in a line like “Good girls go to heaven / and bad girls go everywhere / and tonight I will love you / and tomorrow you won’t care…” If nothing else, “Wanderlust” is the closest cut to dance to.
“Kiss Land” stands out, with The Weeknd being bold with lyrics like “You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free / you gotta pay with your body” or the more overt “I can’t stand talkin’ to brand new girls / only b**ches down to f**k when you shower them ones…” Maybe most irresponsible is his references to drugs. Despite this, “Kiss Land” is a winner. “Pretty” shines as well. While it literally opens with a ‘bang’ (“Somebody telling you it was pointless for me to come back into your arms / said you f**ked another man…”), The Weeknd reins himself in with some more thoughtful lyrics. Closer “Tears in the Rain” sports solid ideas, but as with many of the cuts here, it lasts too long and feels a bit too indulgent.
How does Kiss Land stack up? Honestly, it is a bit disappointing. It’s not terrible by any means, but to say an of the cuts stand up against “Wicked Games” or “Twenty Eight” would be a stretch from my perspective. Additionally, even though The Weeknd built his career around sex, drugs, and emo R&B, a broadening wouldn’t hurt next album.
Favorites: “Love in The Sky”; “Belong To The World”; “Kiss Land”
- Review: The Weeknd Flows Nicely on ‘Kiss Land’ (abcnews.go.com)
Raheem DeVaughn Does What He Does Superbly
Raheem DeVaughn⎪ A Place Called Love Land ⎪Mass Appeal⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 3, 2013
Classy is a positive adjective in my book, however when it comes to music, classiness isn’t necessarily the first adjective that comes to mind when describing a potential commercially successful artist or album. R&B crooner Raheem DeVaughn epitomizes classiness, particularly with his brand of R&B that thrives on uplifting the woman and making her feel genuine love. Despite his refined brand of adult contemporary R&B and touches of retro-soul (formerly of the neo-soul school that seems long gone), DeVaughn’s no commercial juggernaut. Now gone the indie-R&B rap where the neo-soul hippie likely best fit anyways, there isn’t the slightest bit of fall off on A Place Called Love Land, another welcome addition to the artist’s rich discography.
A Place Called Love Land is filled with interludes, opening with “Interlude” which establishes the vibe of the effort. “Love Connection” takes the bait, opening both smoothly and soundly. DeVaughn’s performance isn’t incredibly flashy, but his restraint and coolness more than manage to deliver a punch. After building the connection, DeVaughn continues to shine on “Wrong Forever”, which captures the ear instantly with the beat boxing at the onset. Sporting an archetypical, jazzy harmonic progression, “Wrong Forever” is well written and worthwhile. “Honey, like I’m Hugh Hefner / thinking I could have a million girls but still keep her…”, DeVaughn sings on the first verse, only to sum up his ‘wrongs’ on the chorus stating “…Now I gotta deal with the fact I did you wrong forever…” Deep stuff for sure.
“Interlude – Don’t Go” may be under two minutes, but while listening, you keep thinking, this could’ve been another, full-fledged hit. It’s leads into the outstanding “Complicated” where DeVaughn truly earns every cent and more of his royalties. RD growls grittily by the end, letting that ridiculous falsetto shine to the upmost. Somewhere ‘in between’ within his relationship, DeVaughn doesn’t want to label it: “I’m kinda single, but I’m in love, it’s complicated because, because / I’m being patient , can’t say we’re dating, I can’t explain it, it’s complicated girl…” “In The Meantime” finds DeVaughn among his best, over soulful, bright production. Brief at under three minutes, “In The Meantime” still proves to be a perfect fit.
Following “Interlude: Rebirth”, DeVaughn sings “So call me a fool / call me insane / tell me hat loving you the way you do is ridiculous… baby if loving you the way I do is ridiculous / then call me ridiculous…” on the thoughtful “Ridiculous”, yet another number finding him on autopilot. Through in the soulful progression, hard anchoring drums, and fine songwriting, and everything feels right. “Pink Crush Velvet” has a difficult act to follow, but continues the consistency established by DeVaughn. And honestly, when you have hard drums, rhythmic upper register piano chords, and some synths, how can you go wrong? Oh, of course the vocals of a pro truly set things on fire.
“Greatest Love” continues a group of generally unobjectionable numbers that may not supersede say “Woman” (Love Behind The Melody), but are strong additions by all means. “Cry Baby” is among my favorites, delivering a beautiful slow jam produced by Adonis Shropshire. Then there’s the more gentlemanly-than-expected “Make A Baby”: “Just think we made it / a boy with swagga like mine / and to be sure let’s go all night / and if it’s a girl / like her mama she gonna be so fine…” Sure the sensuality is there, but it transcends that. “Make Em Like You” continues the flattery, but at least it feels genuine (“Take me to your momma and your daddy so I can say thank you cause I just want them blessings…”). The production definitely stands out, hearkening back to the past. What better way to close than single “Maker of Love” featuring Boney James?
All and all, Raheem continues to flex his soulful, gentlemanly muscles on A Place Called Loveland. There is nothing incredibly innovative per se, but ‘tried and true’ Raheem DeVaughn always seems to deliver.
“Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”
- Will R&B Ever Recover From Sales Inconsistencies? (brentmusicreviews.com)
- The Rundown: Raheem DeVaughn, A Place Called Loveland (bet.com)
- Lyfe Jennings and Raheem DeVaughn Beef on Twitter (bet.com)
Jaheim maintains the upmost consistency on his sixth studio effort.
Jaheim⎪ Appreciation Day⎪Atlantic ⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 3, 2013
Face it, R&B has seen it’s brighter days. It’s been cooling off considerably for years and 2013 marks some of the lowest commercial numbers for one of my personal favorite genres of music. Just sad. I suppose it was a few years ago I finally came to the realization that neo-soul was dead, even if I held out hope for a resurgence. Or maybe it was when Alicia Keys’ As I Am was less retro than the Diary of Alicia Keys. I dunno. Anyways, Jaheim, one of those more ‘soulful artists’ who straddled contemporary R&B and neo-soul, finds himself fully immersed in the post neo-soul world, but still manages to remain soulful on his sixth studio album, Appreciation Day. It’s not an innovative affair, but in a time where so many R&B artists have went electro or pop (or independent), Jaheim stays true to his roots and ultimately benefits from doing so.
The fine promo single “Age Ain’t A Factor” initiates Appreciation Day, sounding quite ‘Jaheim-like’. Soulful, yet characterized by Jaheim’s ‘hip-hop’ rhythmic lyrics, the pieces all fit together satisfactorily. The most memorable lyrical moment? “The young one that I got, I’m bout to leave her / cause berries sittin’ on the vine, with time a sweeter / if I can be your man, girl, you won’t want for nothin’ / you look better the older you get – Benjamin Button.” How often you hear Benjamin Button referenced in a song, particularly an R&B song? Exactly!
“He Don’t Exist” gives Jaheim a worthwhile adult contemporary R&B ballad that is lush and well sung. The backing vocals further accentuate Ja’s soulful, smooth lead. If there is a quibble, it might be the fast-paced lyrics are, well, too fast paced. But then again, the chorus tickles my fancy: “I think you need the invisible man / so you can never see his flaws and mistakes…” “Morning” brilliantly (if obviously) samples Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay”, providing a perfect soulful backdrop for Jaheim to paint with his nuanced vocals. Throw in those pure, urban sounding supporting vocals, and Ja is on autopilot. “Do you look fresh, airbrush, magazine? / I’m trin to see if you pretty on me / girl can you keep me callin’ / coming back for just another, another…” Seems like sound inspiration for any lady… course that’s from a man’s perspective.
“What She Really Needs” is in six eight, hearkening back to classic soul, but still embracing the trendy adult contemporary R&B. As always, Jaheim sounds superb, even if the solid, sophisticated cut isn’t his most memorable or best necessarily. “P**** Appreciation Day” is definitely an eye-catcher – at least when you scan the track list and read the title. As a song itself, it features incredibly nuanced and personality-laden vocals from Jaheim, but thematically, it’s incredibly hard to get past the oversexed ode. I mean, homeboy does everything but say what he’s appreciating… Sure, many men feel where Ja is coming from, but it is a bit overindulgent, particularly the “Krispy Kreme glazed in it…” lyric. SMH!
If “P**** Appreciation Day” was too much, the refined “Baby X3” more than atones, delivering signature, lover-man Jaheim at his best. “Baby, baby, baby I’ll do right by you / baby I’ll do right by you / Baby baby tell me what I have to do / baby I’ll do right by you…”, he sings in ultra-gentlemanlike fashion on the refrain. “Shower Scene” and “Sexting” go more overt, but aren’t deal breakers in the least because of the focus on the sensual. “Shower Scene” reminds me of what the late, great Teddy Pendergrass may have sounded like in 2013 (“Turn Off The Lights” was risqué back in 1979). “Sexting” is actually more ‘tasteful’ than expected, certainly more so than the music of Ja’s past. “Sexting” may be most notable because of its dusty drum programming and that rhythmic bass/guitar line. It’s one of the more creative production jobs of the effort.
Again atoning for getting too ‘riled up’, Jaheim throws in a big adult contemporary R&B ballad, this time via “I Found You”. On “I Found You”, Jaheim still very much comes off as an old soul, but sort of like “Hush” (from 2007 effort Makings of A Man), the sound is much more contemporary than we’re accustomed to. Does it work? By all means. “Florida” stands out amongst the best, if not the track to beat. It eschews physical love in favor of referencing the issues in Florida given the famous (or infamous) Trayvon Martin incident/case. Jaheim’s runs are incredibly impassioned, rivaling Ron Isley’s signature cues; his investment into this deep cut is obvious. Emotionally-driven over a six-eight groove propelled by a g-minor piano progression, “Florida” is easily among 2013’s most beautiful R&B numbers.
“Sticks and Stones” proceeds in relaxed tempo with lush production work. Solid as anything else, “Sticks and Stones” doesn’t supersede “Florida”. “First Time” follows with more of driven, soulful groove than “Sticks and Stones”. Something of an updated soul cut or ‘neo-soul’ via 2013, Ja performs it well. After all, he wants you to “remember [him] like [he’s] your first”. Penultimate cut “Blame Me” samples Frank Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year”, which gives the cut a nice subtle, chilled out sound. The restrained palette leaves plenty of room for Ja’s warm, nuanced pipes to shine. “Chase Forever” closes the set decently, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Overall, Appreciation Day is yet another consistent, well conceived Jaheim album. It doesn’t really change the formula (save for “Florida”), but for Jaheim’s most dedicated fans, this should be a pro. Could Jaheim shake up the formula more? Maybe, maybe not. He can be just as effective without the more ‘ghetto’ stylings of his past, but also a few tweaks here and there wouldn’t hurt. Still, it’s a quality R&B album and maybe most importantly is that it is a true R&B album in itself.
Favorites: “Age Ain’t A Factor”; “Morning”; “Baby X3”; “Sexting”; “Florida”
Blurred Lines Proves To Be More Than A ‘One Trick Pony’
Robin Thicke⎪ Blurred Lines ⎪ Interscope Records⎪⎪ US Release Date: July 30, 2013
Ubiquitous summer hit “Blurred Lines” rewrote the script for what could’ve been a horrid narrative for blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter Robin Thicke. The suave, falsetto-loving dude had a bad 2011 with album Love After War flopping. I was onboard… well, for some of it, like when he proclaimed “I’m An Animal”, discussed “The New Generation”, and of course the title track “Love After War”. Unfortunately, that just didn’t cut it for ole boy. However in 2013, the year of the underdog it seems (see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), “Blurred Lines” made Robin Thicke the R&B singer that could, and he does on his sixth album, Blurred Lines. Delivering a enjoyable set of pop-soul cuts, Blurred Lines is no ‘one trick pony’. There are many tricks with the majority of those tricks being pretty awesome. Add intensifiers as desired.
“Blurred Lines” is as good now as it was when Thicke shocked the world with his NSFW video, prancing around with nude girls. It’s pretty freaking infectious, despite the critical divisiveness it has incited. It’s that gimmicky, novelty cut you should write off, but it’s really too good to do so. “I’m gon take a good girl / I know you want it / I know you want it / I know you want it / you’re a goo girl girl / can’t let it get past me / you’re far from plastic / talk about getting blasted…” Let me catch myself before it gets stuck in my head for the umpteenth time. Pharrell assists vocally while T.I. raps as well, but does it matter and do we care? Robin’s the star baby, and according to the video, he has a big…watch yo mouth!
“Take It Easy On Me” has to follow a juggernaut and that’s no simple task. Thankfully, “Take It Easy On Me” doesn’t slack, placing Thicke against a danceable, modern-pop cut that’s also soulful enough not to offend the “Lost Without U” crowd. Thicke is definitely infatuated though as he sings “I’m fascinated by your stare / I’ll rip through all your fancy clothes / I wanna shop for your underwear /I wanna do it all so cold…” as well as “Baby I get that you’re one bada$$ chick / but I’m that guy…” He’s trying hard, really hard. He keeps dancing, but also manages to be chill on “Ooo La La”. We all know Thicke has one of the smoothest, sensual falsettos out there, but it’s nice on this particular cut to hear that mid-/lower-register shine on the ad libs. Yeah Thicke croons, but he also shows he can roar when he wants to. Roar on brother, roar on.
“Ain’t No Hat 4 That” is brief and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Thicke eats cuts like that up. It’s no “Blurred Lines”, but it has the same sort of modern, yet throwback flare. “Get In My Way” continues on stunningly, noted for its fine production work and Thicke’s clear, relaxed pipes. “Come on let’s go ain’t nobody gonna get in my way / I’m gonna make it, no matter what you say / I’m flying by you, better stay on your lane…ain’t nobody gonna get in my way” OK Robin, we got you!
Template for making a hit with credibility? Add darling Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. Sure enough, the results are swell on “Give It 2 U”, a song I was initially like uh… Hearing it once more, specifically contextually within the album, I’m on board, for the most part. I mean it’s shallow adulation (“Hey girl / you know you’re lookin’ so damn fine / you’re lookin like you fell from the sky / you know you make a grown man cry”) as it leads to “I wanna give it to you, through the night / and make everything you fantasize come true, ooh baby…” Thicke is looking for a hookup more than anything else, but who am I to judge? Oh and that Kendrick Lamar cat, awesome as ever. Follow-up “Feel Good” most definitely does so – good enough that “I’ll give all my loving to you”. Ha! A cool feature? Thicke’s inquisitive lyrical approach on the verses, such as “If I gave you all my loving would you give it back?” Pop-soul dance cuts seem to fit Thicke well.
“Go Stupid 4 U” epitomizes its silly title. Basically, Thicke is digging so hard on this chick that she “give a boy a heart attack call the ambulance…” (Verse One). Mr. Suave is not so slick on his wordplay through lyrics “Girl I wrote a song about you / designed a little part that reminds me of your a$$…”, where the physical seems to outweigh anything more. Thankfully, Thicke gets it together on the lovely “For The Rest of My Life”, which is classic, neo-soul/blue-eyed soul Thicke at his best. “For the rest of my life you know I’m gonna be yours / for the rest of your life you know I wanna be here…” More gentlemanlike than a line about the derriere, right? Penultimate cut “Top of the World” is ‘feel-good’, though doesn’t quite match the elite cuts. “The Good Life” closes with some old-school charm, but would’ve benefited for a wee bit more development. Thicke do sang tho’ – mad ad libs bro! LOL.
Ultimately, Blurred Lines is a welcome addition to the R&B or pop collection. Thicke straddles both genres and comes out on top. Vocally he sounds incredibly polished and even manages to let loose – there’s more than poise there! Sure, he ‘goes stupid’ every now and again, but don’t all guys go stupid for girls? #Rhetorical! Blurred Lines fits in line with summer, particularly as we all wait hot and heavy in anticipation for The 20/20 Experience sequel (had to throw Justin Timberlake in here). Blue-eyed soul is having a monster year y’all!
Favorites: “Blurred Lines”; “Take It Easy On Me”; “Give It 2 U”; “Feel Good”; “For The Rest of My Life”
- Robin Thicke On His ‘Soulful, Sexy, Fun’ New Album, ‘Blurred Lines’ (news.radio.com)
- Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” Breaks All-Time Record for Highest Radio Audience (complex.com)
- Music Exclusive: Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” Review (onjugstreet.wordpress.com)
- Bill Clinton Sings Blurred Lines By Robin Thicke In Parody Mash-Up! Watch HERE! (perezhilton.com)