Tag Archives: D’Angelo

Black Messiah

BlackMessiah

Since I find a way to mention him in nearly every blog post I write, I feel it necessary for me to comment on certain recent developments.

Fans have been waiting very near to 15 years for a follow up to D’Angelo’s landmark album, Voodoo. The follow up has been promised by a myriad of people for about three years, with no real concrete evidence that it was as done as was anecdotally communicated.

Friday night, a trailer on YouTube started hitting pop culture websites. This trailer seemed to herald the official return of D’Angelo with his third album, entitled Black Messiah. Even crazier, there was a picture that immediately started hitting the rounds from Twitter, showing what looks like a very real and official jewel case of the album, with a caption stating December 16th as the release date.

In theory, this is the best music news I could possibly hear. This is the follow up to my #1 favorite album. It’s new music from D’Angelo. But in reality I’m a little nervous.

Here’s why, at the risk of sounding ridiculous for being nervous to listen to an album of music. I’ve lived with Voodoo for 10 years, and my love for its genius has been a really slow burn. There are seasons I’d go to it and listen to nothing else and others where I wouldn’t pick it up for months or even years on end. I don’t remember listening to it at all during my first go-round at University of Iowa, and that was three semesters worth before transferring to Northern Iowa, where I remember listening to it on and off for another six semesters, including one in Spain where I listened to it constantly (Voodoo and Thriller were my albums on heavy rotation).

When I think about follow up albums, I usually expect there to be some sort of thread or connective tissue between it and its predecessor. From what I know of this album, from what I’ve heard about it from the people who have been involved in its creation, that thread might not exist between Black Messiah and Voodoo. And that kind of freaks me out.

What if I listen to this and I think its garbage? There is so much speculation and hype built into this new record and I’ve been waiting for it intently for about four years now. I’m nervous to think that that many years of anticipation would be towards something that I don’t or can’t connect to at all.

And finally, I’m nervous for the first time I listen to it. Granted, this is a feeling I feel often when I think about the “first time” of something media related. I was nervous to watch The Dark Knight for the first time, and to finish The Sopranos. The first time with a new album I’ve been waiting for is always a little nerve-wracking, but tenfold in this case. I distinctly remember the first time listening to albums that have meant a lot to me. I remember exactly where and how I listened to John Mayer’s Continuum, Al Green’s Lay It Down and Kanye West’s Graduation.

And the thing that’s scary about them is once you’re through, you don’t get that feeling back. You don’t get a second first time. This is obviously true with lots of things in life, but that doesn’t diminish my first time jitters. As I go into listening to Black Messiah for the first time, I can only hope to remember that I had to let Voodoo simmer for about half a decade before really realizing what it was. Music is one of those beautiful things that God created to get better with age, like wine or sex. Here’s to another 10 years of digesting this album, and another 15 of waiting for the follow up.

If you’re into teasers/spoilers/previews, here’s all the stuff that’s out.

Red Bull Music Academy dropped the first single last night: “Sugah Daddy”:

http://20before15.redbull.com

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Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 11

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons here.

1. “Back Broke” – The Swell Season, Strict Joy

This is one of my sad favorites off of the Swell Season’s follow up to the smash hit Once soundtrack. It’s a gorgeous song, but I think it can serve as a weird warning signal to the Swell Season’s future. Marketa Irglova is almost nowhere to be found on this particular song. It’s mainly just Glen Hansard’s hushed vocals on top of a spare instrumental arrangement. He’s playing a mournful chord progression on his guitar that is just so softly complemented by a haunting combination of piano riffs, string accompaniments, and a restrained second guitar part. There is a whisper of vocal harmony, but rather than a clear harmony part sung by Irglova, it’s more a chorus of soft voices singing behind Hansard. The musical component definitely leads towards Hansard’s solo record. Lyrically though, this is right in the Swell Season’s wheelhouse. A song of a broken relationship that the singer can’t leave. Sad stuff, and it’s couched in a pretty depressing little musical tune. Incredibly beautiful.

2. “The Line” – D’Angelo, Voodoo

A powerful song from Voodoo; it reads very much like D’s manifesto coming off of the success of his debut album Brown Sugar. D’ had been working on Voodoo for nearly 4 years, and the pressure was on from his record company, the music industry, and his fanbase to release a follow up that was worth the hype. This song sounds like a response to that adversity. He lays all of his fears and trepidations on “the line” and says no one can judge him but God. I wonder if this was a therapeutic song to write and record, because its essentially a defense of his artistic method. Musically, this track is sparse, but the interplay between what you can hear is awesome. I’d hesitate to even say there’s a dedicated chord progression in this song. The one time the main chord changes is when the bass dips down for one bar right before the 5 minute mark, then it’s back to business as normal.

3. “Touch It / Technologic” – Daft Punk, Alive 2007

This is kind of a tough one because it’s a mash-up of two songs I’m either not crazy about or don’t really know. Alive 2007 is best listened in one straight shot, because the album is really faithful to the Daft Punk concert experience. Tracks change without you even knowing, so really, the entire album is like one giant mash-up track of lots of Daft Punk songs, not unlike a Girl Talk album. I will say that I certainly enjoy these songs spliced together more than I like either one on its own. It’s got a much better tempo than the originals, and when the song morphs from “Touch It” into “Technologic,” it really starts to pick up. The Nile Rodgers-esque guitar riff that comes in softly just after the 3:00 minute mark is a great transitional bridge between the two songs. Because at 3:42, the song really pops. This is a classic example of Daft Punk taking an album release and making it much better live. Makes you wonder what they would do with all of the awesome stuff on Random Access Memories.

4. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – Eagles, Eagles

You know how you might have heard a song a hundred times in your life and then one day you hear it for what seems like the first time? I heard this song for the “first” time in March of 2013, cruising on a yacht in the Pacific ocean off Miami. I wouldn’t have thought to put Eagles on, but thankfully Chet did and I think we all immediately chilled out. Even though we were on the wrong coast, it just fit the moment, and we all immediately felt lighter. Lots of Eagles music has the tendency to make me feel light as a feather, probably because they are the musical equivalent of light as a feather. There’s so very little that’s complicated with Eagles, and this song is a perfect reflection of that. Soothing strummed acoustic guitars, a clean electric solo with a bit of twang, and a simple drum/bass complement that evokes a cool breeze. A perfect song for sailin’.

5. “I’d Rather Dance With You” – Kings Of Convenience, Riot On An Empty Street

If you’ve never heard Kings Of Convenience, this isn’t actually the most representative song they’ve got. It’s a great tune, to be sure, but it stands out from the rest of their songs as probably the most movement-based thing they’ve ever done. What I mean by that is that it might not be the most fast-paced song they’ve got, but it’s got more going on than any others. There is an actual, noticeable drum rhythm, which is rare for these guys. You’ve got the interplay between strings and keys and guitar, which is a hallmark of their style, but this particular tune is such a unique blend of these three and when laid on top of the drum track, makes this one an actually radio-friendly(ish) tune. It’s a lot of fun, although ironically, probably not the best song to dance to.

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Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 10

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons posts here.

1. “Wait Until Tomorrow” – John Mayer Trio, Try!

JM3 was the product of JM’s musically-rebellious career phase. Radio made him a pop star with “Wonderland” and against his wishes, further boxed him in with the release of “Daughters.” In response, he grew his hair out and started this power trio with Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan. As a JM fan since around 2002, this was an insanely exciting part of his career where I learned a great deal about his musical influences. For example, I knew he was a Hendrix fan before this, but his covers of Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” and “Bold As Love” were concert staples during the JM3 tour and really reinforced how nuanced his Hendrix fandom was. This particular song was a fantastic choice for a cover, and it fit perfectly into his goal of breaking boundaries and finding out how far he could take his new-found musical freedom. “Wait Until Tomorrow” was a song where Hendrix highlighted his rhythm guitar skills, and that’s exactly why JM chose it. In this cover, JM has the chance to stretch some rhythm playing muscles during the extremely complex verses (while he’s singing to boot) and then blast through an intense solo at the end. If you listen to his guitar during the verses, it is all over the place. It’s not just some simple I-V chords underneath the words. His hands are making the most of that guitar neck, and he’s keeping the guitar singing it’s own melody alongside his voice. This cover is a fantastic example of how good the JM3 was for JM’s career. With the JM3, JM had nobody to hide behind. It’s like taking your guitar amp’s reverb knob down to zero; you’re left with just your naked guitar tone and you hear every single mistake you make and it helps you improve. Trial by fire. Playing with the JM3, he had nothing to stand behind other than his own guitar chops. You can hear it in this song completely. The solo itself is a masterful mix of a blistering lead guitar solo while still holding to the rhythm section of the melody, keeping the song moving and keeping the listener conscious to where they’re at in the song.

2. “Princess Of China” – Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

I’d argue this as my favorite song off of Mylo Xyloto. Coldplay swung for the musically-experimental fences and parked one in the “hits” section. When I first read Rihanna was featured on the album, I was extremely dubious, but I shouldn’t have been. I’m not sure why this song works so well for me, but it’s got this futuristic blend of musical styles that’s rooted in an incredibly gorgeous soundscape. In my review of this album, I remember describing it as having a decidedly “steampunk” sound, or something to that effect, and I think this song was the one that really conjured that image in my head. There’s feedback, there’s tinny sound patches, all on top of this stainless steel, factory-like beat. I see robot workers sweating grease and oil as I listen to this. I doubt it’s what Coldplay was shooting for (lyrically, this seems to be a relationship song), but whatever this song is, it’s something that has real beauty behind its mechanics. The coda (“cause you really hurt me…”) is classic Coldplay, finding a chord progression designed to crush human emotions.

3. “Up In Flames” – Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

Two songs off the same album? A Shuffle Lessons first. Unfortunately, most of what I wrote about the tune “Us Against The World” is perfectly applicable to this song. One of the weaknesses of Mylo Xyloto as an album is that there were a few songs like this that seemed like fraternal song twins, but bordering dangerously close to identical. One big difference between these two songs is this one is slow, methodical and sparse in its production, with a lot less going on than “Us Against The World.” When Coldplay keep their songs simple, with no instrument overload, they manage to create this musical ecosystem unlike any other artist, and this song is just a really nice example of that. This song is pretty heavily rooted in simple piano chords and the metronome-like drum beat. Lots of reverb, but without lots of instruments to fill up that reverb space, it creates this gorgeous transitory white space. All instruments drop out just before the 2:00 mark and the listener is left with literally just musical ephemera. It’s breathtaking. And as if it wasn’t enough, the last chorus finally hits this emotional release with the addition of a beautiful guitar riff. It’s an extremely simple guitar tone, very straightforward but adding so much depth to the overall mix of sounds. These sorts of musical climaxes are why I will never stop listening to Coldplay. At least their old stuff.

4. “Spanish Joint” – D’Angelo, Spanish Joint

The story of this song is smooth groove, the depth of which I know I will never fully understand. There’s too much going on here, too many influences and genres and vocal layers and instrumental layers that most likely, there are probably only like three people that truly understand how much this song represents and encapsulates. I don’t know enough about Afrobeat musical culture to get from where this song is really born. What I do know is that given a focused listen, you can find new elements every time. For some reason, the percussion is standing out to me more than normal. Actually, more than ever, because I didn’t really ever notice it before. Aside from the beautiful salsa beat laid down by Questlove, there are some intense congas going on behind it. Technically, this song is a stand out on Voodoo, I just wish I could explain why. I do know that guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter is laying down the guitar parts on this one, both rhythm and bass simultaneously on a custom eight-string guitar/bass combo instrument. Insane. Even in the intro, the way Hunter pulls off such a clear sound from both bass and guitar parts at the same time is miraculous. The quality of the recording is due in large part to Russell Elevado, the sound engineer during the Voodoo sessions. For Hunter’s weird guitar/bass combo, Elevado tied the separate pickups for those two parts into distinct outputs so while there is a slight blend, you can still hear the parts so uniquely in the recording. Phenomenal work. And like other songs off of Voodoo, you can hear like 32 vocal layers on this one. This entire record feels so vibrant and real, like it’s a first take recording. There isn’t a moment on all of Voodoo where I feel differently; a perfect example of that feeling is at 4:42 on this tune, when you can hear D’Angelo tell the band they’re going back to the chorus during the last instrumental breakdown. It feels organic, like we’re listening in not on a final product but rather something being created in real time. Makes for a fascinatingly groovy listen.

5. “Life In Technicolor ii” – Coldplay, Prospekt’s March

Seriously, three Coldplay songs out of five randomly chosen? My iPod must love them. This song alone is almost worth the purchase price of this culled-from-Viva La Vida-sessions EP. It’s basically just the intro from Viva La Vida but morphed into an actual song with lyrics and a chorus. And while I think I like the instrumental better as it fits so well with the theme and feeling of Viva La Vida, this is a very rousing number that makes your heart feel big. Listening to this extended song after devouring Viva La Vida for the five months in between these releases was interesting because it made me wonder why they chose the shorter instrumental to intro Viva La Vida and didn’t just turn it into the full-blown song that’s on this EP. I think lyrically they had used the “Now my feet / won’t touch / the ground” concept more than once, especially as it’s the title of another song off of this EP. I’m glad they chose the slightly more restrained version for the full album, but this tune is a pretty cool look into their song-selection process.

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Old/New Albums: Teddy Pendergrass’ Self-Titled

teddyI wish I liked this album more than I do.

Teddy Pendergrass was released in 1977, six months before the soundtrack to Saturday Night Live came out and disco’s global domination was complete. I’d classify this album as R&B/Soul, but you can hear some major disco elements seeping in around the edges, something that would color Pendergrass’ follow-up albums even more so.

After giving this album some time to simmer, I just didn’t find myself grabbed by the hooks. There are some alright hooks sprinkled throughout, but they all seem pretty heavily flavored by the disco sound, lots of grand, orchestral string arrangements, quickly syncopated drum rhythms, the Nile Rodgers-esque guitar strum. It all kind of blends together into a mash for me.

And there are a few stand out problems that kind of turned me off. First, you run into quite a few writing cliches throughout. The second line of the entire album is “anywhere you go, there you are.” Come on, Teddy. This isn’t the most groundbreaking album in terms of writing quality.

Also, this album suffers from having one vaguely religious song in the midst of a bunch of love songs. Thematically, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s not that God songs and love songs can’t coexist on the same album, but it needs to be done with a slightly lighter touch than this album shows.

Even the tune “And If I Had” was a bust for me. I’ve known for awhile that D’Angelo sampled this tune for Voodoo‘s second track, “Devil’s Pie,” and I had my private eye hat on when I first listened to Teddy’s tune, ready to find the sample. After two weeks of listening to this, I couldn’t for the life of me hear it. I figured it was either a very small sample or something that was radically chopped/screwed to sound totally different (if you listen to “Devil’s Pie,” it doesn’t sound at all like the latter). Big props to Adam for finding it for me, turns out it’s the first half second of the song. Just the bass line before any other instruments come in, that was slightly sped up to provide the bass line for “Devil’s Pie.”

Alright, so the sample has been identified, and it’s admittedly awesome to have a direct connection to something D’Angelo used as inspiration and musical foundation for his own album. But unlike Ohio Players’ “Players Balling (Players Doin’ Their Own Thing)” or Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “Get On The Mic,” the sample used in “And If I Had” is just so minuscule. I don’t listen to this song and feel any direct connection to Voodoo because it’s such a micro sample. It was a bit of a let down after hearing something as drastic as Kool & The Gang’s “Sea Of Tranquility” earlier in this series.

My final conclusion: there just wasn’t anything that really stood out to me. It didn’t even particularly grow on me with continued listens.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. And If I Had
  2. Easy, Easy, Got To Take It Easy
  3. The More I Get, The More I Want

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This week in NYC

What follows is why I’m earnestly glad that social media exists. Here’s what happened last week in New York City.

1. John Mayer started tweeting again in the last month, which is really not a big deal, except when it’s regarding him recording music. And in the last week, he had a lot to say about recording music. He first tweeted that the John Mayer Trio would be reuniting to perform on Late Night With Seth Meyers, as well as hitting the studio to record an LP with some “legendary guests.” The first JM3 record was released in 2005, and their last release could be considered 2008 if you count the set they played for JM’s Annual Holiday Revue concert in ’07, the entirety of which eventually got released as Where The Light Is: Live In Los Angeles in 2008. We haven’t heard legitimately new music from JM3 in 6 years.

So the mere fact that they’re recording a new LP is nearly the biggest news to that could possibly rock my musical world (second only to the release of you’know’who’s forever-in-limbo third album). Then JM tweets that the Trio will be joined in the studio by living legend Chick Corea. Are you kidding me?! This is monumental news. Add to it they’ve also got Miles Davis-approved trumpeter Wallace Roney in the sessions as well. JM also posts some photos up of Pino, Chick, Steve, and Wallace all clearly enjoying the results of their musical collaboration.

On top of that, he posted two videos on Instagram of Chick playing a gig with fellow jazz legends Ron Carter and Roy Haynes at the Blue Note, a jazz club with some notoriety. Very cool, but not particularly significant, until…

2. James Poyser, keys player for The Roots and the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (he’s the guy who plays Thank-You Notes), posted a picture of him chatting with Chick Corea (see below). Only then did I put it together that Late Night With Seth Meyers tapes in 30 Rock, as does the Tonight Show, and the Blue Note is a venue in New York, and JM3 was doing Late Night this week. Also, James Poyser is one of the four-founding members of the Soulquarians, which is always worth stating, even if it doesn’t necessarily tie to anything else.

poyser

3. Back to JM, his Twitter account led me to the Twitter account of Chick Corea, on which were posted several pictures of the actual recording session in which he took part with JM3.

It was at the Electric Lady Studios in New York City, a historical recording studio where countless landmark artists have recorded, including:

  • Jimi Hendrix (the original creator/founder of the studio)
  • The Roots
  • Chic
  • Led Zeppelin
  • The White Stripes
  • Diana Ross
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Erykah Badu
  • Common
  • D’Angelo

And that’s a short list of artists who have recorded at this studio. Insane.

4. Finally, D’Angelo’s sound engineer Russ Elevado (who has now replied to me via Twitter 3 times. That’s right, a Grammy-winning artist has tweeted me 3 separate times. This is my 15 minutes.) retweeted a picture posted by drummer Chris Dave of the same Blue Note gig JM was at. Except in his picture, Savion Glover was on stage.

Legends….roy hanes.. savion glover…ron carter…amazing

A post shared by chris drumhedz (@chrisdaddydave) on

This has suddenly become the craziest gig ever. Dave also posted a picture of him with Chick, Steve and Pino, right around this time. Which is awesome and notable, mainly because of this last bombshell: Chris Dave has contributed a great deal of the drum work on D’Angelo’s new album. You’ve got a guy in a band with JM taking a picture with a guy in D’Angelo’s band, plus an extra guy who is playing for both JM and D’. Then throw in a jazz legend to boot.

All of this culminated with JM3’s first performance on TV in over 5 years on Late Night With Seth Meyers, where they were joined by Chick Corea, Wallace Roney, and former Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena. They did a cover of J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight” which featured fantastic solos by Wallace, Chick, and JM.

It was a very groovy performance, and it was a good reminder that as far as career choices go, JM could play/record exclusively with older, established musicians, and all of his output would be fantastic. He doesn’t need to guest on Frank Ocean’s album to stay relevant (although when he does, it’s awesome). He just needs to keep creating awesome, powerful music, which is a rare commodity nowadays.

What I love about all of this is how interconnected music is. Being a musician is being in a big club, and a bunch of clubmembers who might not normally interact came into each other’s orbits this week, and I can only hope strong connections were made (i.e. a D’Angelo/JM collaboration would be the pinnacle of all my musical hopes and dreams). Here’s hoping we get a full on jazz record from JM3 soon.

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Old/New Albums: The RH Factor’s “Hard Groove”

hardgrooveEverybody needs a little more funk in their life. I recommend you get it with this album. The RH Factor is one of many bands led by Roy Hargrove, a trumpet/flugelhorn player who has played with legends of old and new generations for nearly 30 years. Many of his other group configurations are geared more heavily towards straightforward quartet/quintet jazz, but The RH Factor definitely has its own distinct flavor.

This album has got funk and soul music’s fingerprints all over it. With a shot of hip hop thrown in for good measure, all coalescing into this funky bed for Hargrove’s jazzy grooves to rest upon. There isn’t anything too upbeat here, it’s all pretty relaxed and deep in the pocket.

And absolutely gorgeous. The grooves Hargrove and his players find are so smooth and dirty at the same time. They are all very open, allowing all musicians involved to really stretch out. And while I can’t get enough of this, this aspect is what might turn some listeners off to repeated listens. There could be sections that could’ve been slightly tightened up, or at least shrunk down a bit.

But paring down always comes at a risk. The album opener is a great example of this. “Hardgroove” starts out so low and is just built upon, each musician adding their own voice as the song progresses. For a song that starts out with the simplest guitar riff, it really gets crazy by the 4th minute. Horns on top of horns, bass, guitar and drums, all creating this elaborately controlled cacophony.

Again, I freak out about how good this is. But it’s the fusion-ey open spaces that aren’t necessarily the most accessible to the casual listener. I’m thinking about “Out Of Town” and “Pastor ‘T.'”

But then many casual listeners are not going to be in love with a straightforward jazz quintet either. This album has great give and take between creating funky, soulful grooves that any jazz musician would love soloing over. It hits the bullseye on what a good fusion blend can sound like.

I am predisposed to love this album though, based on the nature of its conception. Roy Hargrove was one of the musicians involved in creating D’Angelo’s Voodoo record, during the height of the Soulquarian musical movement. Everybody was playing on everybody else’s record, musicians were coming and going between sessions, musicians were trading songs (most notably, D’Angelo and Common traded “Chicken Grease” for “Geto Heaven Part Two”), and this atmosphere of unity, creativity and musical experimentation was being fostered. Hard Groove is a reflection of that musical spirit. Many of the Soulquarians were involved in this album’s recording, and you can feel their vibe all the way through the slightly more jazz-inclined flavor of this record.

This feeling of a funky offshoot of the Soulquarian sessions is most evident in one of my favorite tracks, “I’ll Stay” featuring D’Angelo. This is a cover of a Funkadelic tune from 1974, and for this reason it possesses much of the spirit of Voodoo and by extension, the Soulquarians.

During the recording of Voodoo, D’Angelo and the Soulquarians would spend hours jamming through entire albums of their musical heroes, the Yodas of their musical upbringing. Sly & The Family Stone, Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, and so on. It was in these loose and organic jam sessions that song ideas would sprout and blossom into what you hear on Voodoo.

“I’ll Stay” is a perfect example of what that; what happens what genius musicians get together and make music. It is a slow burn song, stretching past 7 minutes. Starts slow and stays slow, but the song finds its groove early, and spends the rest of its time really sinking into this gritty stew of funk and blues and soul. And it’s absolutely amazing. It’s cold-blooded and dirty, like a swampy love letter to a woman who’s done you wrong. My face has a physical reaction to this groove. I make guitar faces even if I’m not playing along. That’s how powerful this tune is.

So I’m crazy about this whole album. This is maybe the first record of my Old/New Albums series that I’ve actively fallen in love with. If you can find it, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. “Juicy”
  2. “I’ll Stay” – Featuring D’Angelo
  3. “Liquid Streets”

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Old/New Albums: Kool & The Gang’s Self-titled

kool and the gangMy first two entries in this series were country and folk albums, so I needed something radically different to shake things up. I went with the self-titled debut album of Kool & The Gang. Released in 1969 (I’m hitting the ’60s pretty hard so far), this album is a lot different than I was expecting. When I thought of Kool & The Gang prior, my mind always went to their hits like “Celebration” and “Jungle Boogie.”

This album is a lot different. This is more along the lines of a Booker T. & The M.G.’s album than anything I was expecting. What they’ve given us here is a collection of 10 instrumental cuts. The only vocals are the background yells and cheers of the musicians having a grand old time as they find groove after groove, and then some mantra-like repeating of the song title during the album closer.

So from a listener’s perspective, there isn’t lots to do here. Lyric-less music can be a challenge for me sometimes, because if I don’t have a guitar in my hands, I don’t have an immediate way to connect to the visceral nature of the music. I can get there with time, but playing guitar often brings down the activation energy necessary for me to feel the music.

That being said, this album deserves far more than a passing listen. Where some ’60s soul music can sometimes run together for me, Kool & The Gang is stacked with hooks. These songs stand out from each other, and if I’ve got it on in the background, my ear will pick up when the songs change rather than it all becoming one long horn-filled track. This makes it fun to come back to and listen each day.

Earlier I compared the sound to Booker T. & The M.G.’s. I’m going to tweak that a bit after a few listens and say it sounds like an album of instrumentals by Sly & The Family Stone around 1967-1969. Maybe with some very early Jackson 5 thrown in. To my untrained ear, the bass engineering sounds nearly identical to the rest of that late ’60s soul/funk sound. Booker T. is good for the occasional listen, but for my money, I listen to Booker T.’s organ for too long and it quickly becomes a cheesy sound. The sound that Kool & The Gang create here sounds like it belongs on the animated sketches of early ’70s Sesame Street episodes, which were some of my favorite segments when they were recycled in the mid-’90s. I’ve written about the pinball sketch before. This album is full of hooks like the music of the pinball sketch. Which, for me, makes it eternally listenable.

And then we’ve got the big old elephant in the room, track 4. “Sea Of Tranquility” will be immediately recognized by fans of D’Angelo as the musical foundation for the song “Send It On” from Voodoo. When I first discovered D’ used an interpolation of this Kool & The Gang tune for his own, I didn’t know the difference between an interpolation and a sample, so when I first listened to “Sea Of Tranquility,” I had my sample-hunting ears on, ready to spot the tiniest hint of similar sounds between the two songs and identify what exactly D’ had sampled from Kool & The Gang. I was taken aback when the song started and it is essentially an instrumental version of “Send It On” recorded by a different band in 1969.

So as I began to understand it, a sample is actually using a portion (or “sample”) of one song as some instrumental element of another song. You’re taking something and using it in a much different way than was originally intended. On the flipside, an interpolation is actually where an artist will record their own version of someone else’s song, kind of like a cover but again, the artistic license is flexed here where the music is used in a different way than was originally intended. If anyone with deeper music pedigree would like to correct me here, I would welcome it because this distinction had confounded me for years.

So D’ didn’t sample “Sea Of Tranquility,” he interpolated it for “Send It On.” Aside from being the main reason I wanted this album to be part of this series (it’s an influence on D’Angelo, come on.), “Sea Of Tranquility” is a very soft and light-hearted tune. Because of the year recorded, equipment used, and artists recording, you’ve got an entirely different feel between the original and its offspring. K&TG’s has some flower-power innocence to it, like a musical cousin to the The 5th Dimension. D’s version is obviously smoother with more groove.

That being said, it’s not my favorite song off the record. That surprised me, but after giving the albums numerous listens, I’ve just grown to love D’s song so much and to hear its inspiration is great, but I’d take his over theirs 9 times out of 10.

One other interesting thing about “Sea Of Tranquility.” It’s got about a minute long outro/coda that D’Angelo did not use in his song, which was really surprising when I realized it was still the same song playing. This is why I’ve enjoyed this album so much. It makes me wonder why D’ chose to leave off that tag in his own song, and even more so, why did he choose “Sea Of Tranquility” over any of the other tunes as the inspiration for his own song? This album series is such a blast because it allows me to delve into albums that have meant something to someone who means something to me. Digesting and learning these albums is a small glimpse into the brain of my musical idols and it gives me greater context in which to understand the music that I already hold so dear. On top of it, I get exposed to great music, like this album, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m now curious to see if and how Kool & The Gang changed their sound as the ’70s dawned.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. “Breeze & Soul”
  2. “Sea Of Tranquility”
  3. “Let The Music Take Your Mind”

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