"Waltz of a Ghetto Fly"
"The Vault-Vol. 1.5"
Blue Erro Soul
Joseph Anthony "Amp" Fiddler gained visibility in his decade-long stint as chief keyboard player in George Clinton's P-Funk All-Stars, but over his three decades as a musician, the lanky Detroit native was also part of the group Enchantment and worked in recent years with such acts as Prince, Jamiroquai, Lucy Pearl and Brand New Heavies. Not surprisingly, there's an energized funk undercurrent coursing through his first solo album, from the classic Sly Stone-style grooves on "Superficial" and the sinewy Marvin Gaye-style antiwar song, "Love & War," to the ecstatic contemporary funk of "Dreamin'," featuring co-writer Raphael Saadiq. Too often, though, the songs are undermined by pedestrian lyrics, as in "I Believe in You" and "Soul Divine."
The album's standout tracks include "If You Can't Get Me Off Your Mind," a slow but forceful romantic plaint that would have been at home at Stax in the '60s, and "You Play Me," on which Fiddler sings against Billy Preston-style organ underpinning. Having worked with some of Detroit's top house and techno producers, Fiddler takes their cold mechanical pulse and warms it up by slowing things down and bringing a live instrumental sheen to the music, meeting Clintonesque '70s funk somewhere in the middle. Clinton makes a brief, less than memorable appearance on the title track, an otherwise genial celebration of ghetto swagger and neighborhood characters.
Eric Roberson, who graduated from Howard University a few years ago with a degree in musical theater, has been making his mark as a songwriter for the Philadelphia music mafia, including Musiq ("Mary Go Round," "Previous Cats"), Vivian Green ("Emotional Rollercoaster") and Dwele ("Hold On"). Roberson does have an easy way with melodies and his vocals are smooth, warm and assured. Sadly, much of "The Vault-Vol. 1.5" feels like a demo reel for prospective clients, with too many arrangements thin, sketchy and mechanical. Roberson favors slow to medium tempo grooves on the supple "Couldn't Hear Me," as in "she couldn't hear me over the music, she never did know my song," a song examining conflicting reactions to art and image, and "Def Ears," where he wastes Sam Cooke-like vocal elasticity on a mundane song pitched as a conversation with God about a woman. "She Ought to Know" features Floetry's Marsha Ambrosious, but she doesn't show up until the last of six meandering minutes. Stronger are the taut Bill Withers-like "Lil' Money," the energized "Change for Me" and the inspirational "I Have a Song" (written for a film titled "Prison Song"), which feels closer to gospel, but too few of Roberson's lyrics push beyond average.
-- Richard Harrington
Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club with Martin Luther and Cody Chesnutt. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Amp Fiddler, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8102; to hear Eric Robertson, press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)