Just 24 hours prior to writing this review, a friend of mine named Thomas Carley recommended I seek out the latest release from The Foreign Exchange. Came into streaming some of their songs without knowing anything about the band members or their histories. Even now I still know very little. All I do know of them comes from another friend Henrique. He informed me that the bands founder Phonte was apparently a member of a group called Little Brother-a hip-hop group hailing from Durham,North Carolina. Knowing how hip-hop groups often spin off into completely alternate musical projects such as this,none of that information surprises me one bit. What did surprise me was how they musically presented themselves in the accompanying CD booklet. Some of the music of course is supplied by keyboardist/multi instrumentalist Nicolay. But this album also features,and credits with a great deal of enthusiasm,their 19 piece string section as well as it’s arrangers and conductors. That level of respect for the ethic of cinematic music production correctly led me to believe I would be in for a real treat with this album.
“If I Knew Then” opens the album with a wonderfully expansive funk/jazz fusion number-with melodies and rhythms elevating right up there with the many classics of the late 1970’s end of that genre. “Right After Midnight” continues on with a powerful synthesizer boogie funk number. This returns to even greater effect on “On A Day Like Today”-a number with enough early 80’s post disco rhythm box/electronic invention and song craft to make it a potentially enormous hit somewhere even today. The more acoustically textured guitar led jazz-pop of “Better” is equally wonderful-especially Phonte’s obviously growing vocal turns. Only wild card is a somewhat foul mouthed rap insert from him that,while delivering what turns out to be a good message,is more than a little out of place. “Listen To The Rain” returns to that flavor with a full vocal take with no rap. “Call It Home” brings a drum-n-bass rhythm flavor to this jazzy funk compositional attitude whereas the house fusion of “The Moment” recalls Incognito to some degree.
“Can’t Turn Around” returns to the expansive 70’s fusion-funk take and “Dreams Are Made For Two” returns to the drum machine led boogie funk before blending the two seamlessly for the closing “When I Feel Love” which,through that hybrid sounds close as this album comes to a modern hip-hop based funk-pop production. This album actually succeeds on every level it’s creators intended it to. The harmonically rich female vocals of Carmen Rodgers,Shana Tucker,Gwen Bunn,Carlitta Durand and Jeane Jolly combine with Phonte’s creamy delivery for a very meaningful and poetic combination of instrumentation and lyricism. The two rap inserts are both well harmonized from the music and are at least from within,which is refreshing in the tail end of the guest rapper age. The way the albums themes are presented are very much in tune with something of a cornucopia of the tail end of the funk era-the stylings from roughly 1977 through 1983 coming into full flower here. The Foreign Exchange are not new and are apparently a live act of high quality. Personally I’d say if this is the direction Phonte is taking them? I’d keep going for it if I were him.
Originally Written On September 29th,2013