For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.
The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.
“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.
One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!