Shaliek • Blood Sweat Tears • Pendulum Records • US Release Date: May 27, 2014
I know I have this thing about quoting Randy Jackson (there is no bromance or anything like that), but this forthcoming quote from the ‘dawg’ is a good one. When Jackson was judging on American Idol, he used to say “when you got it, you got it”. Well, R&B singer/songwriter Shaliek has definitely “got it” without question. Soulful, hearkening back to classic soul, Shaliek ripens adult contemporary/contemporary R&B with his yearning, magnificent pipes. Shaliek’s voice is definitely textured; it possesses a grittiness and coarseness few contemporary R&B singers can brag (John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, and Jaheim come to mind). Shaliek has enough ‘swag’ to fit into the R&B world of 2014, but he definitely sounds more comfortable tapping into R&B’s heyday. His 2014 LP Blood Sweat Tears is solid from top to bottom, delivering some truly heart wrenching performances.
“The Past” opens Blood Sweat Tears moodily – fittingly so given the album title. Additionally, “The Past” can often have a dark tilt about it, so the fact that the song is so powerful and dark in tone, just adds to the brilliant vibe that Shaliek has established. The listener can hear and sense the passion of the talented R&B singer through every vocal nuance. “The Past” proves to be a capable kickoff for the LP. “Better Woman” remains in a minor key, but the tempo is quicker, accentuated by the soulful, driving groove. “Better Woman” is the more contemporary-minded track of the opening duo, yet still it’s apparent that Shaliek is an old soul. There’s nothing wrong with that; it once more bodes terrifically in his favor.
On “Dance in the Rain”, Shaliek shows off his tenderer side, showcasing his falsetto on the verses. It doesn’t take long for his full-throated pipes to return, delivering with upmost emotion once more on the chorus. By the bridge, it’s ‘all over’ the singer/songwriter. Sensual-minded without losing a sense of refinement, Shaliek does something so many of his contemporaries could stand to do – keep it classy and classic. After asking her to dance in the rain, Shaliek states the age-old sentiment of men – they “Ain’t Supposed to Cry”. Lyrics like “Is my pride worth losing you / manhood got me asking me questions…” have Shaliek all emotionally stirred up. Eventually, he keeps it 100: “For a girl like you, I’mma do what I gotta do”.
After all the pent up emotions, the quick-paced, soulful “Feel It” is just what the doctor ordered. Once more set in a minor key, there is clear enthusiasm despite this. “Feel It” doesn’t quite match Shaliek’s slow jams perhaps, but the dude still sings his face off. I’m feeling it Shaliek – you better sang brother! Then, supplementing his crying, Shaliek puts his “Blood Sweat Tears” into this relationship – he’ll do anything for her. Has this scenario played out before? – Yep a million times over across numerous genres. That said, do we ever get tired of singing or hearing about love and how arduous it is to maintain? It’s a rhetorical question. “Blood Sweat Tears” is as good as any R&B joint about doing everything to maintain a good woman.
After losing all that “blood, sweat, tears”, ole boy grows “So Tired”. Yeah, the Edwin Starr sample is blatantly obvious (“Twenty Five Miles”) – and maybe we grow ‘tired’ of sampling at times – but it certainly suits and matches the singer’s incredible energy. “So Tired” isn’t the best of the best, but like everything as of yet, it’s solid, consistent material. “Always Be Yours” opens miserably – a mysterious wall of sound that’s quite unsettling. After the enigmatic opening, “Always Be Yours” settles into a gospel-infused slow jam. As always, Shaliek’s powerful pipes soar, painting the production with incredible nuance and a complete, invested performance. At this point, Shaliek is on autopilot. On “That’s How Beautiful You Are”, chivalry is the singer’s top priority: “But if you look deep enough in my eyes / you’ll see how special you are to me…that’s how beautiful you are”. Again, while Shaliek goes for a tried and true topically, finding a gentlemanly song from a male R&B artist in 2014 is hard to come by, as sex songs seem to have supplanted more genuine love songs.
“Fillin’ in the Blanks” accelerates the tempo in the nick of time, following two consecutive slow jams. Shaliek sings this joint well, though this cut lacks the distinction of – DING-DING-DING – the epic slow jams. No, penultimate song “I’ll Give It Up” is not about sex you salacious-minded perverts! Shaliek once more willing to do any- and everything – “If it means I can have you”. It’s theatrical, but this is Shaliek’s comfort zone where he excels. We wouldn’t have it any other way than a big adult contemporary R&B ballad. Of course fittingly, Blood Sweat Tears ends emotionally with “Like I Was Never Here”.
Blood Sweat Tears is an exceptional, traditional R&B album. Shaliek and company don’t go for the gimmicks that dominate the genre in 2014, but rather seek to deliver an album that truly has the original sensibilities of the genre in mind. That doesn’t make Blood Sweat Tears an anachronism, but rather makes it a better effort than most contemporary R&B LPs. Shaliek has mad pipes, and he doesn’t play around with any of the songs; he always gives his all 110%. His ballads are most effective, particularly those infused with organic sounding gospel histrionics, but top to bottom, nothing inhibits this rare chivalrous R&B LP from receiving my critical blessings. More R&B artists could stand to take a page or two out of Shaliek’s book.
“The Past”; “Better Woman”; “Ain’t Supposed to Cry”; “Always Be Yours”; “I’ll Give It Up”