Friday, March 28, 2008

I been thinkin

Where is the standard-bearer for male neo-soul/R&B vocals? I grew up reluctantly chewing on the offerings of Tevin Campbell, Brian McNight, and Tony! Toni! Tone! It all seemed a little too over seasoned, but I knew underneath was cuisine that was comforting and difficult to refuse. This of course led me to sample the culinary tour de force that inspired the whole genre, via Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and my clear favorite Bill Withers.

Then came D'Angelo. Brown Sugar was a revelation, and yet it was completely expected -- it was familiar, unchallenging, and inspiring at the same time. All of which would seem bland next to his pathbreaking follow-up Voodoo. The use of a superstar live group (?uestlove, Charlie Hunter, Pino Palladino) which throughout rivals any other studio assemblage revealed what I had been looking for all along -- the flavor I noticed but couldn't identify. As a technical matter, if one were to analyze any one beat on any track, you could classify it in isolation as "incorrect," but when viewed as a whole constitutes a tight groove, that elusive undefinable characteristic that any jazz musician could lecture you on for hours. The rhythm is flexible, teetering on the edge of tenuous, and all the while undeniable.

Now I suppose I'm to believe that John Legend has raised the mantle overhead and placed it on the surface of his own baby grand, but am I the only one who finds him antiseptic? I just can't find the compulsion, the groove, the motion forward in his songs or lyrics.

So I guess my point in all this is to ask: D'angelo, where have you gone? Lest I've been missing your capable replacement, the world needs another 12-track set from you stat. And apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so. John Mayer penned this letter to D'Angelo a while back basically mirroring my own thoughts.

As an amuse bouche for those making it this far in the post, I offer Exhibit A in the trial of D'angelo as lone neo-soul pusher:

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