Friday, 20 February 2015

Spinning: D'Angelo - Black Messiah

A very tough period began for Michael Archer, or D'Angelo as we know him, following his second album Voodoo in 2001. He wasn't happy with his sex symbol status and retreated from the spot lights. After that, personal drama and problems started piling up with booze and drugs, several arrests and to make matters worse he was heavily injured in a car accident. In this turbulent period he tried to work on a new record, but after many unclear and contradicting notices no one really believed in it any more. Therefore the sudden release of Black Messiah at the end of last year was a complete surprise.

D'Angelo - Black Messiah (Sony Music)

D'Angelo thought it was necessary to advance the release after the controversial verdict in the Ferguson case. This comes as no surprise when you listen to the record, where many songs are politically charged. '1000 Deaths' starts with a sound bite from the 'The Murder of Fred Hampton' documentary, about the Black Panthers member who was killed by the police in 1971. It gives the song a topical background all of a sudden, where a grim D'Angelo sings:
"Locked and loaded up, and I know the drill. They're going to send me over the hill"
But he says we shouldn't misinterpret the album's title, because he doesn't regard himself to be a black Messiah, nor does the album refer to one. No, the title is about all of us, it's about people who stand up for change.

This could lead you to think the record has become very heavy on the heart and the music is less important. It couldn't be farther from the truth, since D'Angelo mostly endorses his musical capabilities and shows he has a unique talent. The music is a of a high quality in every aspect, the compositions, instrumentation and arrangements are spot on. Where needed small accents are added or omitted. His typical, sometimes distorted Prince-like way of singing has enough credibility and emotion, giving the songs plenty of soul.

The group of musicians that are cooperating as The Vanguard have been chosen with care as well and are perfect for the job. The extremely tight grooves by drummer ?eustlove and bassist Pino Palladino give the songs the right amount of funk and swing like in 'Betray My Heart'. The skills of jazz trumpet player and composer Roy Hargrove and P-Funk member Kendra Foster are used on a large part of the LP, where Foster co wrote many of the songs.

It turns Black Messiah into a very rich album, that is much more than just a good R&B record. It transcends a single genre like soul, hiphop, funk or jazz and instead forges them together into a wonderful mix. You can hear this in the catchy 'Sugah Daddy', the grooving 'Till It's Done (Tutu)' or the relaxed and slow 'The Door'. D'Angelo recorded a timeless album, one that people will still listen to in decades to come and which will then still sound just as fresh, which is a real achievement.

This review has been published on Festivalinfo in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'Black Messiah' on Spotify.

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