Musical Sidenote: Jamie Lidell – Compass

It’s been a little bit since I’ve heard from Jamie Lidell–but he’s apparently been keeping busy.  He’s been working with artists like Grizzly Bear bassist and producer Chris Taylor, and Wilco keyboardist Pat Sansone to help prep for his upcoming album, Compass (dropping May 18).  JL also enlisted the help of Beck who shares production and writing credits on at least one track, while also welcoming back singer/songwriter Leslie Feist and keyboard maestro Gonzales, both of whom have performed and recorded with JL in past efforts.  Rounded out with appearances by producer/keyboardist Brian Lebarton, singer Nikka Costa and legendary session drummer James Gadsen, Compass takes shape.  Do we have enough keyboards going on? After a quick listen, the concept begins to take shape.

My initial reaction to this album was seeing a mixture of JL’s last two previous albums Jim and Multiply fusing together to create some sort of electronic-funky-soul-R&B hybrid.  You can feel the vintage synthesizers reminiscent of the 80’s and at the same time the distinctly unique sound manipulations, showcasing an important musical facet of the future. Blend it all together and you get a beautiful thing.

The catchy intro track “Completely Exposed” starts off with an electronic beatbox that quickly evolves into bumping beats chalk full of soul infused vocals and distortions.  I enjoy JL’s choice to lead off with this track because it instantly sucked me in, and all I can think about is how much fun this song would be to hear live. A more distorted Jamie Lidell chimes in with “Your Sweet Boom” bringing in more elements of a much more modern electric funk, playing more and more like the hybrid of sounds and concepts from both Jim and Multiply.  Bringing it down some–“She Needs Me” throws a beautiful break into the album, with a rhythm & blues jam that’s even more melodic than a “Green Light” or “All I Wanna Do” track. It’s the longest track on the album ringing in at 5:55, and well worth a few listens on loop.

JL doesn’t stay in the R&B gear too long, “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” brings it right back to central thesis of electric funk, creating the aura of being in an 80’s break dancing video, with 80’s Prince-like guitar riffs and synthesizer-drenched beats.  And while the album progresses, it seems like Jamie is digressing in decade vibes as “Enough is Enough” sounds more like a fun and carefree 70’s tune.  “The Ring” features some of JL’s best songwriting and provides a first single for the album.  “You Are Waking” returns once again to a brilliant funk and electronica breakdown where he simmers for the next couple of tracks, at times bringing in a Funkadelic ambiance.  “Compass” in particular stands out as the one lone track with beautiful acoustic guitar composition and the absence of much vocal or instrumental distortion (albeit a minor build in the middle). It’s another beautifully placed track in the album, providing genre splits that divide the record at key points.  “Gypsy Blood” has a real fun way about it, changing modes at interesting times, and even though it’s only a two-minute gem, it’s enough to feel like another perfect buffer between differing sounds.

On the whole, Compass is really all about direction–JL set up the track-listing on the album superbly, creating a listening experience that should be an archetype for good records.  By that, I mean bringing the album in with a catchy track and being able to keep up that energy throughout the second, before bringing it down a little for the third.  Ebb and flow dictates your auditory senses and by the time you get through the first several tracks, you’ve sampled a generous variety of sounds that tie a record together and give it a truly distinguished identity.  I believe JL pulls it off quite nicely.  My hope is this album creates more buzz around Jamie’s ridiculous talent and brings him more into music’s spotlight this year.  Looking at his tour dates, he’s not making many stops in the US, so if you want to see him, make sure you’re on a coast in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I’ll save you a spot in line on May 18th.

Compass

The Ring –

Compass –

Tracklist
01. Completely Exposed
02. Your Sweet Boom
03. She Needs Me
04. I Wanna Be Your Telephone
05. Enough’s Enough
06. The Ring
07. You Are Waking
08. I Can Love Again
09. It’s a Kiss
10. Compass
11. Gypsy Blood
12. Coma Chameleon
13. Big Drift
14. You See My Light

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Raphael Saadiq – The Way I See It

raphael_saadiq_the_way_i_see_it

There has been a recent resurgence of soul music that tries to remind us of a time long since forgotten.  Amy Winehouse released a doo-wop inspired album almost three years ago that went back to a soul singer of the 1960s.  Another British artist, Adele, has just recently released her blueyed soulful debut, 19–an album that received positive feedback and even featured a cover of Sam Cooke’s “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On” as a bonus track.  A new up and comer Ryan Shaw came out with his debut album This is Ryan Shaw, which features wonderful R&B and soul covers of Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson.  Raphael Saadiq however, has taken the quintessential parts of soul and R&B and throws them in a time machine destined for the 1960s. This is Raphael’s 4th studio album, and while all of his previous efforts were undoubtedly filled with soul, The Way I See It could quite possibly be the crowning achievement of a era that needed to come back.

In explaining about the making and production of the album, Raphael speaks about listening to the likes of Gladys Knight & the Pips, Al Green and The Four Tops to gain not only structural direction, but also to conjure up feelings of soul harmonies like the love ballad.  His inspiration transcends time and space, while even looking to artists like Spike Lee and his documentary When the Levees Broke to create tunes like “Big Easy.”

Saadiq is really like a Smokey Robinson, a Marvin Gaye and a Sam Cooke all poured into the same paint bucket and then spread across a canvas.  This album is a time piece, which is something very few artists dare to do.  It’s not just a retro-throwback to Motown or an homage to the jazz and soul artists of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s– it’s a compilation where Raphael takes his cues from the masters of the genre, but it’s what he gives back that makes him a master in his own rite.

The first track off the album is “Sure Hope You Mean It,” a song that sets the tone for the album with a rhythm and sound similar to Gladys Knight & the Pips take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”  The following track “100 Yard Dash” elicits some of the best music composition of the album–it’s also probably the most modern-sounding track although there is still a solid oldies influence–I would have to say this tune is the most unique and consequently the best on the album.

The album showcases several hits, including “Just One Kiss,” which sounds like a youthful Al Green in his prime; it’s music that just feels good.  It was like entering a time warp only to come out to Mr. Green performing a rendition of “Let’s Stay Together.”  And the fact that Joss Stone makes an appearance here shows that Saadiq knows where to place his vocals.  Reminiscent of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell duo, it makes me think–had Tammy not left us too soon, this is the duet they would’ve created.

“Never Gonna Give You Up” features an amazing Stevie Wonder on harmonica and CJ Hilton, where you hear what sounds like something between Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” and “I Want You,” and of course there’s Stevie.  “Oh Girl” is one of the slower soul jams, and there’s  also a remix where Raphael departs from the old school vintage and brings in a taste of neo-retro fusion with a guest appearance from Hov (Jay-Z if you didn’t know) who serves up some lyrical wordplay as usual.

This album is a standout because of it’s simplicity and fun, adding curb appeal, but its arrangements and production are so much more.  Saadiq was asked what his feelings were on the neo-soul artist and the fact that he was going retro soul, to which he responded “I just think, who wants new soul? I want my soul to be the same as Otis Redding, I don’t wanna have a new one.”  On one of my favorite tracks, “Staying in Love,” he encompasses feelings of love both in relationships and with music–“falling in love can be easy.”  With The Way I See It, it’s that easy, so go on and check it out if you haven’t already.

Buy The Way I See ItRaphael Saadiq

There are two bonus tracks – “Kelly Ray” and “Seven”–both put a nice icing on the cake.

Bonus Tracks – Kelly Ray

Seven

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