D'Angelo is clearly looking to cast a spell on us with "Voodoo," the long-awaited, much-anticipated follow-up to his 1995 debut, "Brown Sugar." That album is generally considered the cornerstone of a neo-soul movement that would subsequently include Maxwell, Tony Rich, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Strangely, all of them found commercial and critical success while Michael D'Angelo Archer seemed content to bide his time in the shadows, peeking through on the occasional soundtrack, guesting here and there, all the while unhurriedly finessing his "Voodoo" vibe at New York's legendary Electric Lady Studios.
There's not much suggesting Jimi Hendrix on the new album, though vintage analog equipment, including some old amplifiers and microphones of Hendrix, was used in the recording sessions. But D'Angelo, who jump-started the "new soul revolution" by giving classic soul a modern, hip-hop-informed edge, has done some old-fashioned channeling here. "Voodoo" (Cheeba/Virgin) at times conjures such sensuous role models as Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder (D'Angelo used Wonder's Fender Rhodes from the "Talking Book" sessions on several tracks). The album's primary influences, however, seem to be Marvin Gaye and Prince, two artists whose best work wedded raw eroticism and emotional nakedness. "Voodoo" will fit on the shelf right next to "Let's Get It On," "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy."
Like Gaye and Prince, D'Angelo pushes his voice out front even as he cushions it with multitracked harmonies. The Prince shadow is most evident on such sinewy tracks as "Send It On," "Greatdayindamornin' " and "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," for which D'Angelo has made a video that leaves almost nothing to the imagination. The Richmond-based singer recently told Time he'd spent much of the last few years lifting weights--it shows in his rock-hard abs and rippling muscles.
Gaye's troubled soul informs such songs as "The Line," the spiritually charged "Africa" and the multilayered "Playa Playa," which sounds like a slowed-down version of the studio jam "Got to Give It Up," with a molasses vocal reminiscent of Badu and Arrested Development's Speech, a syrupy bass line and brisk brass accents by Roy Hargrove.
Overall, D'Angelo seems much more interested in establishing grooves and vibes than emphasizing traditional hooks and catchy choruses. Reflecting D'Angelo's live-in-the-studio approach, these sparsely produced tracks feel like shambolic jams at the point where they suddenly transform from loose to locked-in. Seven of the 13 tracks clock in at six minutes or more, but there's minimal dynamic variation: most are slow to medium tempo, nudged along by D'Angelo's keyboards, Charlie Hunter's brittle guitar and compressed drums by Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots.
After a while, however, this willfully seductive groove wears a bit thin, though it can also be mesmerizing in a trancelike way. It's as if D'Angelo purposefully avoided giving listeners something easy to hang on to and wrap themselves around, hoping instead they will be enveloped by the album's sound and the spirit. In an age of shortened attention spans, that's going to be a challenge.
There are several tracks that bend the mold. "Devil's Pie," produced by DJ Premier, originally appeared on last year's "Belly" soundtrack and feels slightly out of sync here, as does a remake of Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love." "Left & Right," featuring slightly salacious raps from Redman and Method Man, is one of several songs with echoes of D'Angelo's breakthrough single, "Brown Sugar." "Spanish Joint" ups the tempo slightly with Latin jazz flourishes, while "Chicken Grease" gives up some supple funk in a manner reminiscent of James Brown and Prince, but it never really works up the requisite sweat.
Neither does D'Angelo, though the slinky swagger and sexual promise of "Untitled" might inspired that in others. Co-written with Raphael Saadiq of the late, lamented Tony Toni Tone, it's postmodern Quiet Storm. Here and throughout "Voodoo," D'Angelo wants you to turn off the lights, fire up the candles, burn some incense and seek his shelter.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8161.)
Kevon Edmonds, '24/7'
Best known as the former lead singer of After 7 and brother of uber-writer/producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Kevon Edmonds makes his solo debut with "24/7" (RCA). Like Babyface, Edmonds is a soft-spoken romantic traditionalist, celebrating true connections and grieving separation and loss. He has no objection to sweet supplications for love but never resorts to mere whining for sex. He knows how to treat a lady. He's a gentleman, whispering sweet somethings.
And he does so in songs that are traditional in their structure. These include such giddy testimonials as the title track, "When I'm With You," "Love Will Be Waiting" and "A Girl Like You," a duet with Babyface. "Never Love You" captures the frustration of a replaced lover, who insists that his successor will "never love you more than I love you." Both "How Often" and "Sensitive Mood" evoke romantic regret, while the yearning "No Love" is a last-ditch plea for forgiveness and reconciliation.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8162.)
'Love in Stereo'
Shades of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera: Rahsaan Patterson got an early start on a television show, "Disney Kids," before disappearing behind the scenes as a studio musician, producer and writer (he's crafted hits for Brandy, Tevin Campbell and Chico DeBarge). After a promising but uneven debut two years ago, he returns with the more fully realized "Love in Stereo," a collection of sophisticated soul tunes that range from the snappy, big-band-powered "So Right" and melancholy, string-fueled, Barry White-style funk of "It Ain't Love" to several tracks that recall classic Stevie Wonder. These include the aching "Friend of Mine," which describes betrayal by a wife and friend, and the funkier, good-natured "Humor."
While Patterson's not above praising the temporary pleasures of a one-night stand on the supple funk track "The Moment," he's more at home with the wrenching emotions of "It's Alright Now," where he muses about surviving the end of a relationship and moving on with his life, hoping eventually to regain the shared happiness at the heart of "Do You Feel the Way I Do." Patterson also injects a bit of social commentary into the album via the jubilant gospel-soul of "The Day" and the sober caution against physical and emotional abuse in "Treat You Like a Queen."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8163.)