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D’ANGELO “JAMES RIVER” FEATURE
Soul Jones pays homage to RCA Records recording artist D'Angelo, with an imagined, fictional review of the soul legend's forthcoming and long awaited new album, expected this year (2010)...

“D’Angelo! Hello stranger … it’s been what … ten years? What you been up to? Brought up your kids huh? Is that right? How old are they now? In the 7th & 6th grade … wow, time flies. Bloody hell, do you realize it’s been a whole decade since we last heard from you mate, properly. What have we been up to? Good question … well let’s see, we, your fans, have been living, just trying to get over. There’s been a lot of changes, most of us have different careers now, moved crib a few times, changed partners, had a spell in rehab, filled out and put on some timber, mellowed out, bought a house, got married, had babies, gained some wrinkles, lost loved ones, found love ones, come to terms with birthday milestones, given up on dreams, started cultivating a pension, got divorced, had operations and yes the barnet has started to recede a little too. But man, even though it’s been a decade we still remember it like it was yesterday – that time when you were our soundtrack, when the music was new, when you as an artist conquered the world. We’ve missed you brother, no-one has taken your place. It’s true, get this … soul comrade and facebook friend of ours Mr. Rahsaan Patterson was only saying on his status last month that no-one has stepped into your boots, musically, and who then popped up and hit “Like” on the comment? The UK’s own Omar. They, just like all of us, think that “Voodoo” confirmed you were the best artist since both Marvin Gaye & Prince in their prime, a genius, a Yoda if you will. And it wasn’t just the album, your show blew us away too; the Voodoo/Soultronics tour, a tour that even included soul hero Anthony Hamilton on backgrounds, yet still your voice shone the brightest and whilst the show was well rehearsed, it still had that spontaneity, which was as good as anything by Sly Stone, James Brown & Michael Jackson (yeah I know boss, RIP JB & MJ … that’s how long its been!) But you had it all, something special was going on; the 360 degree deal package before record labels wrote ‘em into contracts. You had us all - the headphone listeners, the dancefloor dwellers, the houseworkers, the sex fantasists & the muso’s … and we all remember the smell, the redolence* (*the redolence = see below). That’s not a dis, it’s a compliment … You know what were talking about. So ten years is along time to wait and to carry this baggage, and it ain’t just your baggage mate, It’s ours too – so be prepared brother, that’s what we’re bringing to the listening party… “

Track by track: JAMES RIVER – The album

1. “James River”


So is “James River” finally here? Well almost. Track 1, titled “James River” is 2mins 59secs long but has no sound or music, not a squeak. You can listen to the whole thing but there’s nothing, nada, zip, not even a hidden message (“Don’t buy the ‘Yoda’ album” … or something like that). So what’s the point? Is it a comment on the hype surrounding a 3rd album? Was the mic accidentally turned off? Or maybe D’Angelo is just fucking with us. Whatever the reason, the disappointment does serve a purpose, acting as an immediate expectation dropper.

2. “Streets Of Gold”


It’s on track 2 that the music begins, but not with a groovy meandering intro like on “Playa, Playa” (from “Voodoo”), no “Streets Of Gold” starts straight on the one with a big arsed grinding fatback drum sound, gospel quartet guitar playing (Spanky Alford?), electric bass bottom and “cathedral” church organ. The clarity of production is the most surprising aspect, like D’Angelo has remastered his own original version. His multi-layered & hymn-like background choir confirms exactly what this sound is … gospel. It’s the next part that throws you, the vocals on the verses are twisted, sung slurred and hazy yet offset against the clear backing track … make that fucked up gospel (the dictionary definition of soul), that is until the chorus begins, as clear as the emperors neo clothes in the “Untitled” video; D’angelo sings “I’m walkin …” his background harmonies kick in “… walkin’ on streets of pure gold … I’m not alone.” Ah, God’s with D’Angelo, just as much as the G.O.D. (he/she) is with anyone, and faith intact he doesn’t need to respond to the doubters/haters, all of whom judged him by the fact he wasn’t working. You see D’angelo’s music comes from the soul, from experience, so hell we can’t be mad, this shit takes as long as it takes. If he had released an album the year after he’d spent all of his time gigging, based on his need to make music about his life and experience, it probably would have been called “The Voodoo Tour” or maybe even something more specific like “I’m Getting More Shags Than Anthony Hamilton.” Difficult as it is for us to understand, he just hasn’t been ready. On www.soul24-7.com back in ‘04 there was a fan (THESOULBRUH) who vented his opinion – shared by the majority- when he posted “When is that lazy ass bum gonna put out a new album? We need him back!” See that punter/fan’s life had been touched by D’angelo, but he couldn’t put himself in D’angelo’s place, just like a jilted lover can’t understand the reason for being rejected nor can stop the hurt. Does the slurred vocal represent the frustration felt by D’Angelo’s fans like that SOULBRUH geezer? Possibly, or maybe D was just stoned when he recorded it. Whatever it’s a killer.

3. “Virginian Strong”

“She got it on me, Virginian strong”


D’Angelo still can’t break up with his real mistress, he called her “Brown Sugar” in ’95, in 2000 “Spanish Joint” was her swagger and he’s been with her damn near everyday of the noughties in “Virginian Strong”, and he uses this relationship to unveil his new musical idea in the process. DJ’s will call it breakbeat with synth playing in minor keys, but soulheds will recognize the furious handclap & drum style of Marvin Gaye’s ‘T Plays It Cool’. It works and guess what you’ll probably hear his contemporaries using the same formula in the years to come. Lyrically “Virginian Strong” includes the dirty oasis missing at the beginning of the CD, “I was baptized in James River, she was smuggled ova in a tug, I’m devoted to her majesty, love is still the drug”.

4. “1000 Deaths”


First complete track to be “leaked” from the project “1000 Deaths” is a killer slop jam (black rock funk’d up with soul = Slop), just as sloppy as “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” & his cover of Prince’s “She’s Always In My Hair” (a blindingly dark, twisted, bitter version); productions that nearly had D’Angelo parting the seas of record retailer genrefication and segregation to lead black artists back from the “R&B/Hip Hop Section” to the promised land of the “General” category in record stores, alongside Prince & Jimi Hendrix (FFS there was even a “Sounds Like Prince” rack in one high street store – they had Funkadelic in there). “1000 Deaths” is a victorious return to the slop, confirming what D’Angelo’s very best music is all about - elements from his heroes combined to make a whole new thing. Of course you could say he’s stealing, but here’s a newsflash … so did the Beatles, Sly, Brian Wilson, Outkast, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Prince all of those legends did their unfair share of “borrowing”. And just like those cats he knows how to expertly select the bits that’ll work in creating something new and original. Soulheds, Funkers, Musos & Orgers will recognize the sounds: The Prince style “Dirty Mind” synth bass throb and grungy pornofunk of the “Camille” bootleg you bought on cassette from Plastic Surgery Records in ’87 (now a mobile phone shop); the menacing whistle and echo lifted from “On The Corner” by Miles Davis; Shuggie Otis psychedelic church organ playing from “XL-30”; Hendrix style (slight) return on wah wah; Sly’s PCP fuelled slap bass thump filling in for a pissed off, disgruntled and soon to be exiled Larry Graham (during the “riot” sessions), all of these elements employed over a groove that improves on the jam that was D’Angelo’s own “Chicken Grease,” a track that was missing a shit hot chord change, which we now get on “1000 Deaths,” and when that happens on the malevolent chorus not once, but twice, you’re ready to go to war with him against whoever it is he’s singing about. As a 7 minute “song” it’s overall production is imperfect, but wonderfully so. Just like James Brown’s shit keyboard solo in “Sex Machine”, the keyboard intro finger-slip on War’s “Why Cant We Be Friends?” which makes it sound like a bunch of mates just having a lark or the engineer who accidentally fucked up “What’s Going On” by playing back the master with 2 alternate vocal takes present at the same time. It’s the beautiful imperfections that go towards making the magic that can’t be programmed or contrived (it’s rumoured that during the Voodoo sessions Lenny Kravitz was invited to play over a J.Dilla rhythm but refused because he thought the beat was out of time). It’s the punk ethos that was in rock and roll, doo wop, jazz and hip hop that has been missing in black soul and funk since the superior studio polish of the disco inferno spread circa 1973, and when that happened hip hop passed by and spit on the ashes of punk wop soul harmony. D’Angelo understands this and brings it back to the future; “1000 Deaths” is a masterpiece and soon the slop nation will all be playing along with D’Angelo’s guitar solo on the Funk Ax (the funkier air guitar equivalent). Pure genius.

5. “Love Wi Chu”


Punk wop … writhing, myriad, multi tracked voices, grainy sound, coming across like a weird punk version of the Persuasions standing on the stoop singing a rousing accapella rendition of “Don’t Look Back.” Soon as it all begins with the floor stomp drum rhythm (Questo?) and the simplistic dirty bass yanks (D?) with the intentional choppy, fuzz guitar twangs (the late great Spanky Alford?) you’re locked in; the voices now harmonizing weird groans that are the essence of punk wop, i.e. 4 guys on a corner, in the shittier end of town, singing under an amber street light, with only one singer that can really wail. In this case it’s D’Angelo’s falsetto mantra “I was really love wi chu” that grabs you and works you over, surprisingly as the strange production almost hides the strong melody. A melody that becomes more insistent each time you play it. Eventually you’ll take “Love Wi Chu” home in your head and sing it, wherever you feel the urge … in the shower, cooking a fry up or doing 90 on the motorway.

6. “Keep Changin” (Featuring Andre 3000)


We all said it … “yes we can.” Barack Obama winning the US presidential election on November 5th, 2008 could prove to be one of the most important & historic moments in the world’s history. For civil rights in the US and as an icon his place in history is already assured, in music his place has been documented with the event inspiring virtually every R&B/Soul artist under the setting sun to record a track proclaiming “Change” in the title. But as for his place in the history of world politics, there’s still some work to do, because here we are, 1 year later, and the truth is that as yet, world politics and the US’s foreign policy hasn’t changed all that much: The detention centre at Guantanamo Bay is still open, more troops are being shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan than ever and the rumors that Bin Laden is actually dead have yet to be confirmed. Along with funk-lej Andre 3000, this song is simply saying “Obama, we believe in you mate … you’ve got to keep the change going though, our lives are depending on it brother.” The US public declared “Yes we can,” its now time for Barack Obama to stand up and say “Yes I Can.” That’s the gist of “Keep Changin’” – all over a brilliant Soulquarianstankadelic groove.

7. “The Way Around You”


Sounding like the beautiful acoustic version of “Africa” a bootleg from the Voodoo album, this song is a bittersweet take on the theme expressed in D’Angelo’s cover of Prince’s “She’s Always In My Hair.” To express his feelings he uses the example of the shirt that she’s wearing, it’s his shirt she’s got on with nothing else and she looks beautiful. 1st chorus… “I know the way around you & where to start” is a boast, a kiss in the morning sunlight; by the 2nd verse something has changed and the shirt she wears now “Is mine” – she’s always wearing it, its too much , she’s in his hair by the 2nd hook “I know the way around you, off by heart” he’s grown weary of her, he knows every part of her and longs for something else – the middle eight lets her have it “don’t know where I’m going, but it’s not where I’ve been”

8. “I”


“I, I, I, eye-ahh can’t get over U” …. Possibly born out of a D and the Soultronics (?uestlove, Pino Palladino & Charlie Hunter) tradition of jamming a cover until something new takes shape, by the sound of it Prince’s “Rebirth Of The Flesh” might have been the template, meaning urban sunshine funk with hopscotch drum hits. Co-produced by Jeff Bhasker, he must be responsible for the shock & awe echo synth track. If ever there was a candidate crying out for a Prince collab it’s this nuvo gem … it’s not too late Archer - get Rogers on the dog & bone, put the release back by a month … there’s still time.

9. “R&B Jesus” (featuring Amy Winehouse)


Rolling Stone scribe Robert Christgau memorably referred to D’Angelo as an “R&B Jesus” when he titled a “Voodoo” era feature for the mag. Comparing him to the star of the bible ensured the article got noticed. There will be a few raised eyebrows after D’Angelo named a song using the tagline, but this isn’t a Michael Jackson “I’m the king of pop” moment, D’Angelo along with featured artist Amy Winehouse find comfort in the ridiculousness of their own celebrity and how it caused them to want to escape using whatever was readily available, in the process enjoying each other’s company in a way addicts do at an NA session. The backdrop is a Little Richard influenced piano led groove, with D & Amy growling over a rock and roll beat, nicking the lyrics to the chorus from the Beatles “Ballad Of John & Yoko,” singing:

“Christ you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are goin’
They’re gonna crucify me.”


It’s possible (as there’s no credits) this was co-produced by the excellent Raphael Saadiq (ala “Let’s Take A Walk”). After “1000 Deaths” it’s the best cut on the album and has been worth waiting 10 years for. Here’s a bit of sizzle: It’s rumored Kanye West felt he should be on the song and wanted to do a verse – however he was rejected on the grounds of him being a “jackass”

10. “10 (Come On D And Sing Your Song)”


Brings D’Angelo full circle, in a brilliant, somber, brooding, gurgling cauldron of a track ;“10” is a new version of his own composition “U Will Know” (originally recorded by Black Men United) – the number in the title could relate to the years D’angelo had spent in the wilderness (just a guess) and whilst the original song displayed the cool charismatic maturity & wisdom that was about to propel D’angelo to the top of the world, this his first solo version, deconstructs the feel-good pop soul of the BMU version, giving lyrics such as: “That’s when I picked up the pieces and regained my name” a new stark poignancy and relevance. Which is another thing … whatever happened to (BMU member) Tevin Campbell?

11. “The Fury”


“The Fury” could almost be “Part 3” of “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker” (the live version of the “Brown Sugar” track performed during the Voodoo Tour and nicknamed “S,D,M Pt. 2” is considered one of greatest slop performances of all time by devotees) with its aggression, power, grit, strength and soul; attributes James Brown displayed in his prime. Unfortunately (and unnecessarily), since that era of black music (1968 to 1972), aggressive soul has been a distant memory. So all this time angry young men have had no choice but to buy a hip hop CD to get their emotional release (or fix). One of the most powerful emotions that needs to be released is frustration, particularly when it’s born out of a lack of love, which can be caused by many things (jealousy, upbringing, poverty, sexual, racism, ignorance and hate, to name the main culprits) and this can make you feel that you’re on your own, especially when that feeling places you into an enforced minority (it could be what D’Angelo meant on “Devil’s Pie” when he sang “Ain’t no justice, just us, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”). The true history of rock and roll, and soul was born out of that emotion. As a kid how do you deal with that? One way is to withdraw within your own immediate peers, ones you know have gone through exactly what you’re going through, another is to focus on the positive and try showing a strength and optimism in adversity even though the cards are unfairly stacked against you. But c'mon really? You’re a teenage kid, you don’t have that wisdom yet - you’re allowed to be angry. Later, what music do you listen to? In that moment only having either “Save The Children” or “We Are The World” playing on your iPod just won’t always cut it. D’Angelo understands that aggression, that strength – and he can turn it on, musically & soulfully without the need for a rap collab. He’s one of the few that have turned it on since the industry told black music what it should be. Imagine “Say It Loud I’m Black & I’m Proud” or “Dancing In The Street” covered by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with D’Angelo singin' his face off over some Tennessee Slim backgrounds. Awesome.

12. “The Haze” / “Greathazeindamorning”


A true slopadelic masterpiece: nasty, yet mesmerizing and euphoric with a full horn section and a grungy lead guitarist (possibly lead-guitar-funk-lej, Fonksta) sitting together in the studio sharing a bucket of chicken. It works, expertly like Sly’s “I Wanna Take You Higher,” with a vamp that simmers into a beautiful coda “Greathazeindamorning”, with its string arrangement, and delicate, yet funky percussion ala Fela Kuti, a moment of musical excellence that is like the sunrise in the early hours of an all-nighter, for those too wasted to sleep.

13. “The Incredible & Unpredictable D’Angelo & The Soulquarians”


Don’t be fooled by the title, this is a full on glorious cover version of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everybody Is A Star.” The only real faithful do-over on the album - Like you’re in a field in NY State, with a million brothers & sisters, all singin’ as one. Spot the guest vocals by Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton & Bilal.

14. “Black-Angel-Chile”

“Pulled the wings off Gabriel and laughed as he fell,
She’s sweet & filthy and hot like hell,
In VIP alone, tour shirt of the Stone’s
This broad got a jones for a geetar moan…
Oh chile, oh chile”


Oh yeah, she a fine ass groupie, one who’s desirable, sexy as hell, sweet like an angel but can’t be trusted with your heart. The sloppier D’Angelo gets the more its like these songs are his therapy, like he’s telling this story to get this slop shit out of his system. Easily the best classic slop track since Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” or maybe even “Red Hot Mama” by Funkadelic. They say Lenny Kravitz has been working on a funk album … he better hurry up.

15. “#unfollowtheleader”


Is socially conscious, digital 2KAD Funk; “Devil’s Pie” for 2010 with a gang mentality like War or the Ohio Players at their best. The lyrics on the bridge say it all: “Want some money? Just print some mo’, add a nought to the number on the market floor” before the chorus chant of “unfollowtheleader … all the true believers … unfollowtheleader.” It would appear the leader is money, or whoever sets the price of gold. Looks like D’s been watching “Loose Change” whilst he’s been chillin' at home.

16. “Love Is Now In Session” / “The End”


Gorgeous - originating from the 2007 leaked song “Really Love” (you didn’t hear it from ?uestlove ). For all the groundbreaking styles, love (except for in the music) has been absent for most of the record, similar to what you’d expect conceptually from a hip hop album. But this track is all about love, beginning with D’Angelo alone, sat at the keyboard serenading his listener, melancholy but devotional. The plodding backdrop of the original “Really Love” demo has been replaced by a delicate Fender Rhodes concerto, reminiscent in feel to Donny Hathaway’s “I Love The Lord (He Heard My Cry).” The final section, entitled “The End,” reverts to the sultry guitar style of Voodoo’s “Untitled” but with chords more akin to Brown Sugar’s “Higher” and the religious, gospel style background perfectly clashes with the sensual, sinful lyric “til its ova, til the very end, my love, when we will ascend.” Pure soul music, think “Amazing Grace” meets the sexual “Do Me Baby.” As the music gently rises (joined now by gospel choir and band) to a stunning crescendo, it’s the cigarette lighting moment – a perfect blissful finale to an otherwise, emotionally charged electric soul thrill-ride of an album. Savour every moment … not just because this album almost didn’t make it but also because you never know when and if there will be another. 10 years is a short time to wait for a work of genius.

D’Angelo is signed to J Records.

Thanks go to:

Gatorio: for the “1000 Deaths” exclusive. All the artists and musicians whose work inspired this article - with nothing but love and respect.

SJ

*THE REDOLENCE.

Time: Nearly midnight, July 19th 2000AD Place: Brixton Academy, London, England

“How does it feel? How does it feeeeell?”

1 by 1, the players in D’Angelo’s Soultronics band began to drop out of the performance, taking a bow and leaving the stage, at 11 minutes into “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” the encore and nearly 2 hours after the show had started. Each player gets a standing ovation from the audience, none of whom have left their place on the floor yet.

Stood in the centre are me and my brother, who have been surrounded by the same ticket holders all night. To the right is a pack of wild girls (all of whom seemed to be wearing Estee Lauder, perfumes that when combined together - on a hot muggy July night - was almost suffocating) on a ladies only night out who as early as “Send It On,” the 3rd song of the set, began shouting “GET IT OFF!” They were referring of course to D’Angelo’s vest, hoping to spot a glimpse of his ripped torso (it actually takes longer than 4 weeks). Behind us are a gang of 4 geezers, who by gyrating and jostling furiously, first accidentally nudged us in the back as the band were jamming on “Chicken Grease,” caught up in the JB style atmosphere whipped up by D’Angelo & The Soultronics with the groove taking on a new life of its own, accompanied by D’s JB like spins. By the time the violent, teeth grinding, microphone stand shattering slop that is “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker” is in full flow the geezers had kicked up a strong aroma, turning the floor into a sweaty, stanky moshpit (they’re quieter now thankfully after one of them briefly passed out during “Left & Right”), at that point my brother and I were acting as the human barrier to the 2 teenage hoodies in front, who simply nodded their heads obscuring the view on the one (tr'iffic ... isn’t it always the case; just like sitting behind the afro at the Odeon), and who were clearly oblivious to the melee occurring a metre behind them. You see they had lit their 1st British joint during “Brown Sugar”, rather blatantly as it goes (smoking indoors might have been commonplace in 2000, but smoking weed - a pungent dose bought from the bloke outside the Canterbury Arms - wasn’t), but no they didn’t offer to share it, not that everyone would have joined in, especially not the “dating couple” to our left who are dressed & scented to make an impression on each other – he’s sprayed on the strong odour of some Hugo Boss aftershave and is fitted in a sharp black tailored suit with a black shirt, no tie and polished shoes so shiny that you could almost see in the reflection what colour knickers she had on under her skimpy lilac silk dress. Before the show began their conversation went a little like this: He asked “So have you been to this venue before?” And she replied, “Yes once, to see Guy, but I LOVE D’Angelo!” Bet he didn’t know she loved him that much.

Anyway here we all are, still, 1 hour & 50mins into the show and the band have all now departed in turn earning a rousing applause: drummer and musical director ?uestlove, bassist Pino Palladino, the singers Shelby Johnson & super soul hero sidekick Anthony Hamilton and lastly, James Poyser on Piano, leaving D’Angelo alone sat at his Fender Rhodes keyboard, doodling with the melody of the song, shrouded in the soft glare of a blue spotlight – which is just how the ladies in the audience wanted him.

“Said I wanna give you what you want babe … said I wanna know how it feels girl,” he ad-libs, along to the finger poppin’ soul clicks of his 4000 strong male & female Brixton Academy percussion section. “Would you mind baby? Would you mind if I took off all your clothes …. Aaaaahhh baby…. hoooooooooohhh” The ladies roar as one, yet seemingly unaware of each other and only thinking about him. “Ow does it fee eeeee elll I heeeeelll toooo, ow does it feee – eeell,” he sings in his baritone style growl … and then breaks it down to just Rhodes, dancing over the keys like Donny Hathaway, he slows it down to a midnight lullaby, D’Angelo is preparing to talk to the crowd…

Spoken: “yeah … said I want to know how it feels tonight baby,” he looks into the sea of faces “I want to know how it smells…” The ladies gasp, “Huh … how it tastes.” They yell – he then sings in falsetto … “All I wanna say is Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala laaaa la laaaa baby” He makes the ladies scream. They can feel every “lalala” and he has them all right where he wants them. The Hugo Boss guy dressed all in black looks a little nervous, like he’s thinking “there’s no-way I’m letting her (Lilac) get the singers autograph now!” But rather he’s keen to give her a lift straight home. D’Angelo then sings a request to the crowd; “If I can get someone to sing it tonight – oooh feels good when you sing it baby.” The female attendees, more than half of the capacity – about 2000 of them, sing along in unison to the chorus … “HOW DOES IT FEEL? HOW DOES IT FEEEEEEL?” At this point there’s an even stronger smell than we’ve had all night, the scent that D’Angelo referred to, it’s a smell that takes over the entire hall. The blokes in the audience are stunned, none of whom are singing. Suddenly they feel like they are the apprentices in the Academy, witnessing the master at work. “Huh y’all sound good,” D’Angelo laughs before a final wail “aaaaah baby” and then the keyboard playing stops. “Thank you, I love you.” Says D’Angelo. The End.

The exit door opens and we return to our lives, in awe of the music, the performance and the man.


  
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