Last Live Show Pre-Covid-Me’shell

I don’t know love to the point of numbness. I don’t know love to indifference. I certainly don’t know love to the level of callouses and vitreal.

Success shouldn’t do that to you. 

I do believe artists should be allowed to grow, but non-artist consumers can’t be expected to appreciate that. They came for their song. Sing their song.

Having said all that, I truly embrace it when I watch an artist at “peace” with singing ‘your song’ and anything else you want to hear. Too often, it’s past their prime. But better late than never.

That’s my take as a music critic and semi-artist translation of Me’shell’s return to DC’s Blues Alley with her high school bandmate & comrade Federico Gonzalez Pena. Also there was Oliver Gene Lake, a crucial member to early career (2nd & 4th albums). 

My reception of what I saw as a diehard fan and son of the DMV was that my big sister came home. And she was happy to do so. It took a little effort not to drop an happy tear at hearing Plantation, Passion, Bitter, Cookie AND Comfort gems revisited one-by-one. Just jaw dropping revelations as I’d NEVER hear her perform some of these tunes live. The maestro was all I ever expect him to be-and that is mystical. Every time he puts the vocoder headset on, I know I’m on the magic carpet and we’re leaving here. Gene. Mr. Pocket himself would not be muffled even in the quaint wee-hours of a Sunday evening nearing midnight. 

She was gracious. She was grateful. She was generous. She was receptive. 

She was also funny. 

It was 90 of the happiest minutes of my life. 

Prince 1958-2016

1. 1978 – For You

No 18 year-old should be this accomplished at this many instruments. The irony

is that the production of this album might be the most meticulous of his career.

He was NOT a perfectionist, yet his debut is just that. 92

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2. 1979 – Prince

Allegedly a collection of easier stuff (hits) he’d written for the women he admired

and wanted to work for, he beat the sophomore slump by keeping them for

himself and in the process landed his first classic song at #1 on the chart. 90

3. 1980 – Dirty Mind

What he really wanted to come with on his sophomore project. Whoa. So you

were ready to shock the world that early huh? What kind of confidence or

psychosis allows an unproven dude to come with an album as explicit as this.

One R&B hit doesn’t establish you in the day and age of MJ, Luther and Lionel. I

do believe we often view this in revisionist history. “Uptown” and “Head’s” genius

notwithstanding, He was crazy to try this in ’80. A-side mostly forgettable and

simplistic, the b-side jammed and hinted at how funky he was to become. 81

4. 1981 – Controversy

A tid bid less ambitious (or insane), with more genres crossed, and his first

official bed-wetter-this fourth album begins an arc of indisputable GREAT

albums which span a full decade. NO ONE can say they ever did that. Successful

singles and night time airplay made him soon a regular staple in black homes and

bedrooms. 85

5. 1982 – 1999

I tried to compare this to Off the Wall for MJ and Purple Rain being P’s Thriller.

And I was properly corrected in that as far as R&B radio and black fans, Thriller

for Prince had already happened with this. And that too may be a stretch, but

there’s no doubt that 1999 was an opus before the opus. 95

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6. 1984 – Purple Rain

There are those of us who already knew he was the shit, only “When Doves Cry”

blew our heads off. This was fun, but not quite as funky w/o the b-sides which

actually complete this venture. The movie’s release and buildup because of how

popular his 1999 became after MTV’s assistance, he missed his annual release

date. 94

7. 1985 – Around the World in a Day

He always called this album “funky.” I was like, who’s he convincing? The funk is

in there, but the flutes, strings, vocals have overshadowed the Minnefunk until

“Tamborine,” “America” and “Pop Life” show up…and depart. It’s an abstract,

flashback to late 60s trip. But it is a great album. 85

8. 1986 – Parade

This is the most concise, cohesive, and concentrated 40 minute dose he

completed outside his debut. From “all by myself” to orchestrating as many as

seven more musicians for these 12 and the additional tracks that complement the

movie-this encapsulates his best ability to “play well with others.” “Mountains” is

the pinnacle of that, pardon the pun. 100

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9. 1987 – Sign O The Times

Once you’ve done all that you can with a band, and heaven forbid people

overestimate said band’s value to your sound…you blow that bitch up and remind

‘em, “I do this best by myself, remember?” The programming genius returns here

with all the Camille gems and of course, that “Ballad of Dorothy Parker” beat. But

if you really need to know the reach of one man’s apex musically and vocally,

“Adore” answers that call once and for all. 100

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10. 1988 – Lovesexy

Change the album cover and this album sells another 500k. Though it has only

one hit single, it has some of his most crucial album cuts. It’s an EASY 40 minute

listen in one-track. As annoying as that was in 88, we found ways to skip to 16:30

repeatedly to repeat “Anna Stesia.” The title cut is the glam-funk that ‘cleaned up’

Black Album in a way that made sense and less corny than “Glam Slam.” Me and

at least five hard-headed PG County dudes rocked the album (or tape with the

artwork flipped inside), so I’m still riding with this as a top-ten, if not top five

album of his. Another complete “statement.”95

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11. 1989 – Batman

Thorough score of a crazy film. Save for a few moments of veering off into

personal moments like “Lemon Crush” and “Scandalous,” it’s a good album with

and without the film it supports. 200 Balloons probably should’ve been included,

but perhaps he didn’t want us to know the root cut of “Batdance Pt. 1.” But I’d

take it over “Lemon Crush” any day. The confluence of imagination and

inspiration for “Party Man” and “Batdance” is simply brilliant. 89

12. 1990 – Graffiti Bridge

And then there’s scoring a bad flick. Hard to make a great album when aligning it

with what really should’ve just been a mini-movie or video. The notion of it being

a sequel to Purple Rain only further damns the film and album. But 3-4 of the

best compositions he ever released are contained in “Thieves,” “Question,”

“Repetition” and “Funk.” 78

13. 1991 – Diamonds & Pearls

If it wasn’t for the overindulgence in rap from his own lips or Tony M’s, this

would be a classic album. It contains quite a few classic songs, nevertheless. I

think I was just happy for him when this came out. Hitting number one on

multiple charts and still being this relevant as we could see MJ next door losing

his mind (and melanin). “Strollin,” “Willin and Able” and “Money Don’t Matter”

don’t get enough praise overall considering the single hits on here. 83

14. 1992 – 0)+>

An opus and the foreshadowing of him abandoning his “name.” Coupled with a

“movie” released on VHS of the compiled videos, it was the last GREAT album he

recorded. Singles in every format and every genre under the sun covered this was

his final statement as a WB artist, despite the remaining releases to fulfill his

contract. 97 https://www.facebook.com/notes/reg-...

15. 1994 – Come

Basically an EP, it was clear he was just trying to get out of his contract alive and

“Let it Go” was his “peace out, y’all.” The title cut was amazing. A very full eleven

minute jam equipped with horns that make it hard to believe this man ever

disliked horn sections. “Dark” is also an underrated ballad in his catalog. I

could’ve done without the R&B remix of it on Crystal Ball three years later

diminishing the greatness of the original. 75

16. 1995 – The Gold Experience

This was a confusing project. When he lead with “Most Beautiful Girl in the

World” as an independent single, we thought WB was over. But he still owed

them albums. That’s a bad place to put even the most creative genius in. Is the

project going to be inspired or begrudgingly done? Thankfully, this was as

intentional as a mf. From snatching back “Shhh” from Tevin to the illest finish of

ANY of his albums with “Billy Jack Bitch,” “Hate U,” and “Gold,” this album

didn’t get the love it should have. It could stand to lose a track or three, but where

it hit, it hit with a sledgehammer. 84

17. 1996 – Chaos & Disorder

A great rock ‘n roll album showing us that he was still capable of a cohesive and

contrite package despite the title’s true-to-life happenings at the time. 91

18. 1996 – The Vault

This isn’t an album. It’s not even as its title suggests. There were one or two songs

from his bootlegs shined up here and offered up to get him out of his deal. But the

title had us looking for what would later come in the Crystal Ball package. What

IS here though is some killer playing with the NPG, specifically Levi Seacer, Jr.

on “She Spoke 2 Me.” 72

19. 1996 – Emancipation

This was unimaginable. It was the amount of recording and landscaping it took to

make the three separate projects that were pieced to make Sign O the Times.

Except this time all for one project within a couple of months. 36 songs (despite

an instrumental or segue cheat here and there), 3 discs of 12, and ultimately some

of his best concentrated output. Disc 2 could have been an album of it’s own.

However, I believe it’s the only one that could have stood on its own. For better or

worse, marriage, expectancy, and middle finger flipping to WB made for a solid

year or two’s worth of listening. 86

20. 1997 – The Truth

An acoustic cherry on top of the The (real) Vault that was Crystal Ball. Some

memorable tunes, but no classics. Very similar to the One Night Alone album, I

can appreciate the ability to strip it down and fill the space with one instrument,

but I don’t hum or sing any of these songs decades later. 78

21. 1998 – New Power Soul

Sometimes you realize that the “shackles” of a major label ain’t only bondage.

This album has ONE great song on it. And wrapped the “freedom train-wreck”

that was Graham, Khan, 0)+>’s indies. I forget this album existed most times (or

try to). Like many you’ll see listed in his discography between ‘97-’02, it’s not

something he was clearly convicted about releasing with the only one single and

video. 60

22. 1999 – Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic

He teased that he was going to work with someone he hadn’t in years, 0)+>

worked with um…PRINCE. Whatevs, first foray back into major label deals, he

tried to appease a bit, but still mostly in ‘symbol-man’ and ‘tafkap’ space and the

programming is still very Emancipation-ish. “Greatest Romance Ever Sold” was

an epic recording (and video) and radio didn’t really know what to do with it.

Album stalled at gold despite Clive Davis’ distribution. Prince-ish gems that save

the project for me were “Tangerine,” “Wherever U Go,” and “Pretty Man.” 78

23. 2001 – The Rainbow Children

Just jazzy enough and John Blackwell driven, this one picked up for me where

the The Vault sessions with the NPG left off. Blackwell’s drums are so crucial to

the album, I really hope he got co-write credits for this project. Wonderfully

mixed and engineered as well. “Family Name” is the funkiest shit he recorded

post-WB and I need all eight minutes of it. Questions of identity are on his mind

as well as legacy with a new marriage. All that funnels through, but doesn’t drown

out some really great live instrumentation and music. 91

24. 2004 – Musicology

Though the title cut was that “get off my lawn” statement I never ever wanted him

to make, there were gems on this album that let ME know he still had IT. And no,

I’m not talking about “Call My Name,” despite that being the one most accepted

as his last relevant hit song. It was the trifecta of “What Do You Want Me 2 Do,”

“The Marrying Kind” and “If I Was the Man in Your Life,” which cemented he

was still that man. The brilliant “cd with show ticket” helped him pull a fast one

on Soundscan and get his last multi-platinum cert and without full signage to a

label. 83

Happy 20th Anniversary, Sealhenry! 20 Reasons to Love Seal

Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel is a lot of name to carry. But when you stand 6 feet 4 inches solid, you’re probably up to the task.  You can find some gentle giants out there though and Seal has written some of the most poignant, kind, songs you’ll ever find. Though his appearance initially screamed “rocker,” full head of dreads and the hulking frame, leading with a tune called “Crazy,” just seemed to fit. Even if the lyrics were anything but what they seemed. The song and sentiment weren’t rock at all. As the man behind them was more multi-dimensional than that. The message from day one through year twenty has been one shared with artists like Lenny Kravitz, “love is the message.” Color-blind, “everything is everything,” “namaste”-“love.”  As elementary or pedestrian as it may read, it’s a much better place to stake a 20 year run on than one where apologies have been necessary along the way.

I won’t attempt to come off as the know-it-all Seal “Stan” here. I am just like you, I didn’t really sign on ’til “Kiss from a Rose” either. But hey, I made up for lost time!

So let’s go ahead and get that one out of the way. Thank you Joel Schumaker for having the taste to dig up the unreleased single from a nearly dead That resurrection of the album got us an additional video/single with “Don’t Cry.” The video version doesn’t prep you for the album version’s intro and outro which hit at Trevor Horn’s genius to isolate or enrapture Seal’s raspy, powerful tenor. Their “marriage” on record means to me what Becker/Fagen, Ashford/Simpson, John/Taupin do. Seal has been said to record the songs acoustically with his guitar alone, and Horn will encase each recording with what he “hears” should complete the musical thought. At times he removes himself (or his production) so you can hear what Seal started with and just how crucial it already was before the theatric afterthought.

Ok, let my long-winded ass break down the rest of this 18:

So, “Killer” had been in my head for years and I didn’t know until I went BACK for the debut album that HE was the one who made the song in Cuba Gooding’s Gladiator.  It starts the movie, and ala Rocky, you are kinda ready to “fight.”

“Whirlpool” is truly the song that made me stop dead in my tracks, and sign on to my Seal liftime membership. I think I played the song a straight week when I first heard it. I even used a riff from it on the outro of one of my songs, and intro on another. 

Ok, to bounce around a bit and keep things a little closer to “my ranking” as opposed to release dates: “Just Like You Said” from Human Being saved me from near departure from the fold. Love ol’ boy to death, but to this day I won’t forgive him for following up 3 time Grammy success with a video or single like “Human Being.” Nor will I forgive him for the first three songs on the album being so substandard. I don’t know if falling out with Trevor or Tyra was the impetus for lack of focus, but we, the fans had to suffer.

At least ’til track 4: 

Seal made some REALLY significant soundtrack contributions between the 2nd and 3rd albums. Most notably for me:
Indecent Proposal
Space Jam
(Special shout to Rashad “Tumblin Dice” Smith for helping Seal on the production. It was a legit 90’s upgrade to the song.)
and Set it Off 

From 1994, there were quite a few unreleased gems. One might even resent this, but to be singing on your 2nd album with one of your idols seems unfair! They made for a nice blend that even Joni had to recall for her next album and return the favor.

And that brings us to the halfway mark, where I’ll tell you that Seal and Trevor are masters of dual dosage on you with one song. This one can hypnotize in its original form. Dreamy, atmospheric, and floating. But when you hear it stripped to its bare form, it’s a whole ‘nother experience. If you can find it out there, look for the acoustic piano version.

Happy 53rd “Kid”

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Prince
For You
1978 Warner Bros. Records
Produced by Prince

Thirty-three years ago the modest debut of a nineteen year-old one man band hit with one of the most impressive debuts imaginable. It arrived silently, as only one single was catchy enough to bring in the disco lovers well immersed in a Travolta love affair out to the mellow R&B waters.

The “kid” opened with an acapella opening simply stating:
“All these things and more are you. With love, care and deepest sincerity, my life with you I share.”

The tone set with the Mamas & Papas or Beatles-like showcase of vocals and arrangement showed incredible discipline for his youth. Shuggie Otis had already shown similar autocratic prowess, but this kid was much more focused and made that known from the beginning. Otis was a promising foreshadow of Prince, but prima dona’d his way out of a record deal and all industry favor four years before Prince’s arrival.

This music was simply sweet. Nothing breaking down walls in a year of EWF’s All N’ All & Steely’s Aja epics, but he was cool, funky, and electric where he needed to be. With truly impressive bass work on tunes like “Just As Long As We’re Together,” he funkily pulled from the jam-oriented sessions he’d just done with mentor, Pepe Willie. He and his acoustic guitar were apparently very close as the sweetness reaches cavity level with “Crazy You” and the jazz-tinged “So Blue.” His familiarity with every keyboard under the sun is a definite Stevie influence-not just the use of them, but ease with them. He stepped out as bold as he could with the finale, as if to say “this is how good I am with all this sh!t.” The bass & drum intro alone could be studied, but they then lay down a grove aided by lightning guitar riffs and solos.

The vocal and instrumental influences were there, but below the surface as opposed blatant thefts. Figuring out where he was coming from or going wasn’t abundantly clear. What was clear is that he’d be painstakingly careful and calculating in his approach. This meticulousness exuded here sets the tone for anything he decided to do afterward.

When he finds his own sound, he’s gonna be something else.

Prince
1999
1982 Warner Bros.
Produced by Prince

“I was dreamin’ when wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray.”

“1999 made it clear you didn’t have to get along with eight mfs to get shit done.” – Claude Houseworth

Be afraid when someone who can play live instruments puts them down to program instead.

Be very afraid.

The difference between artists/producers who program because they don’t know how to play and those who’ve mastered their instrument is that they program or synthesize for flavor, not foundation. The Linn Drum machine introduced in ’79 and revamped in ’81 became the fad, force and often foundation of 80’s pop and R&B music, retiring many a studio drummer. Where everyone under the sun merely used what was there (including Michael and Quincy who’d be releasing Thriller in two months), Prince added echo and eventually guitar pedal effects transforming an already revolutionary piece of equipment.

Not yet fond of horns, here he created “hohens” with swelling effects now available on keyboards and synthesizers, further pushing past the need for a “band.” Add his already crucial guitar and bass chops with a few extra voices for good measure and party feel, season to taste and you have yourself a seventy minute casserole to hold the masses at least ’til the sell by date stamped on the cover.

He found his way to the pop charts and mainstream appeal via “Little Red Corvette” and MTV, being one of three black artists of whom they were heavily rotating vids. Once they got in, however, many realized how much more they’d bit off than they could actually chew. The sexual innuendos merely glazing over “Corvette” were nothing compared to the blatant “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” But hey, they were late. He’d gone as far as lyrically possible on Dirty Mind two years before and been critically hailed (by Rolling Stone) as an innovator while being um…filthy.

“Whatever you heard about me is true. I change the rules and do what I wanna do. I’m in love with God, it’s the only way, ’cause you and I know we gotta die someday. If you think I’m crazy, you’re probably right, but I’m gonna have fun every motherfucking night. If you like to fight, you’re a double drag fool. I’m going to another life, how ’bout you?”

The epitome of confliction and furthering the distance between sanctified and sacrilegious the album’s themes of sex and God baffled most who’d never heard someone so free with their tongue, clothes or music. But he really didn’t give shit what you thought. By this point, four albums deep under his name with three more pantomimed by The Time and Vanity 6 he knew who he was and what he was about to set off.

http://youtu.be/2RcNzsXU0i4
“I don’t wanna be a poet, ’cause I don’t wanna blow it. I don’t care to win awards. All I wanna do is dance, play music, sex, romance, try my best to never get bored.”

“D.M.S.R.” was a the Minneapolis flag planted and firmly stating “This is the sound, we are here, and go’on and put the kiddies to bed. Let’s party.” It was as universal as only a Black Minnesotan could concoct. Funky as it’s gonna get for years to come, “D.M.S.R.” and “1999” were definitive examples of the Linn Drum Machine’s reach as well as Prince’s adding to Stevie’s tradition of utilizing technology to expand the twelve notes.

The sincerity of “Free” and sentiment of Revelation throughout the album conveyed the humanity of the mad scientist. His excellence as a musician, producer and innovator need not overshadow is incredible imagery as a songwriter displayed with “Corvette” and “International Lover,” the latter a new dimension in bedroom symphony ever moistening the “Do Me, Baby” sheets.

1999, single-handedly disbanded the “band,” defined the Minneapolis sound and forecasted the Purple Reign on the industry for the next ten years.

 

Prince & The Revolution
Parade-Music from Under the Cherry Moon
1986 Paisley Park/Warner Bros. Records
Produced by Prince & the Revolution

1985

Ok so it’s now cool to be a Prince fan. Even post-Thriller, with Purple Rain, you might even be corny if you don’t like Prince.

With that excitement, me and every dude in my neighborhood, nerd to knucklehead ran to grab their copy of Around the World in a Day, and more importantly, share with the crew. The artwork of the album and smell of the newly made clear cassettes is as vivid as yesterday.

(As the crowd collects themselves after “Purple Rain”)

We dropped the next platter on the turntable to hear…

a Middle Eastern flute?

As if the funk lovers of the Dirty Mind or 1999 days now appeased only by b-sides were already nervous (or annoyed) with the “whitening” of his sound, it is now clear he’s lost them

…and his f-ing mind.

The reckless abandon of success and testing of one’s ten million new fans has never been done like Prince after Purple Rain. The “bio” part of the semi-autobiographical film is the openess of using others’ music and sharing the of the credit & wealth specifically with his father, Wendy Melvoin & Lisa Coleman. These influences, with Claire Fischer’s strings, and dismantling of the Minne sound with Around the World in a Day created space for the landscape and score for his next movie. Unlike the performance filled drama Purple Rain was, Under the Cherry Moon was somewhat of a romantic comedy set in the French Riveria-a place Prince would soon fall in love with alongside his soon-to-be fiancée, Susannah Melvoin.

http://youtu.be/VIEE7xmVAWAParade’s biggest influence overall?

Happiness.

He’s finally happy-happy in the fact that he’s conquered every world imaginable and got the girl too. This evidenced by the Gemini in him enjoying the exploration and exorcism of being Christopher Tracey and Prince simultaneously and setting up the opening of the film and album. Conceived in full suite;“Parade,” “New Position” “I Wonder U” and “Under the Cherry Moon” were recorded as they appear here with Prince playing the drums free-handed (later adding vox and instruments) and straight through-happy, funky, cool, then romantically pondering:

“How can I stand to stay where I am?”

No, he’s an evolver.

Hints of funk long lost appear with “Girls and Boys,” but it’s still a cleaned up thing as opposed to the basement grit of The Time’s debut. But hey, he’s too happy for all that now as explained on “Life Can Be so Nice.”

The b-side (ironically black-labeled on the wax release) is where the funk returns. Even in its pretty form, the bottom on “Mountains” signifies he’s conscious of us thinking of leaving him. With one of his most brilliant compositions to date, the confluence of strings, horns, the baddest band in the land with their fearless leader holding it down, we now understand now why he’s okay sharing the name and wealth. The beautifully arranged vocals throughout this side are where Wendy & Lisa make their presence most felt. “Do U Lie” does a lot of impressing to be wedged between “Mountains” and the album’s only hit, “Kiss.”

His most skeletal production to chart, “Kiss” houses merely a perfectly mixed Linn, sound effect or two, Mazerati on backups (robbed of this groove originally intended for them) and Wendy Melvoin’s ‘parade’ of guitar, it eclipses the full album by most followers to this day. For the first time Prince seamlessly connected a full length in the Innervisions/Fulfillingness’ tradition of gapless synergy as “Anotherloverholenyohead” dunks “Kiss’” alley oop. How happy is he to have the first woman he ever trusted the musicianship enough to include on his album have a twin for him to fall in love with? Susannah compliments “Anotherlover’s” background vocals to near co-lead level making the soon to be marriage a hopeful one.

The sincere and somber close lets the Gemini and his girls eulogize the film’s character with the sentiment, “Sometimes it Snows in April.” It’s the appropriate close to a phenomenal forty minutes of strings and things. It’s cool that every now and then there’s some Prince and funk in there too.

 

Prince
Sign ‘O’ The Times
1987 Paisley Park/Warner Bros
Produced by…whom else?

“Who put this together huh? Me. Who do I trust? Me that’s who!” – Antonio Montana

After three albums of sharing artist and compositional credit with The Revolution, Prince was indeed ready to remind mofos who he was and that the first 5 albums of his career he’d done virtually alone. By this point he’d amassed some 7-10 proteges and signed acts, many of whom were now disgruntled from either being skilled musicians and no one knowing it, or from the boss’ lack of full attention to their project.

It was definitely time to strip down.

Stripped so far down that after leaving Parade on a note like “Anotherloverholenyohead,” with loyal radio spinning the full band remix featuring horns, the title single for Sign ‘O’ The Times crept in like a teenager after curfew. Light drum program, one looping keyboard sound and him singing in the most humble of tones…

Prince? Prince got a new song out? I just finished listening to “Anotherlover” five minutes ago! Sure enough by the tune’s end with most impassioned vocals, a blues guitar solo and a percussion break, we knew it was indeed “the man” and he was back-alone.

As the album’s release drew near, we were told that it was actually a double album. DC radio began spinning as many as six new songs (including a ten-minute b-side) to swell the ground and the city was never more prepped for a Prince release.

When it dropped we got it and dispersed to study then discuss. It was so much music, but I swear we devoured all sixteen cuts and “Sign ‘O’ the Times'” b-side, “La, La, La, He, He, Hee” within a week as we listened to NOTHING else.

The definitive drum programmer was back. Not since “When Doves Cry” had we heard the man who revolutionized the Linn Drum machine lay one down like “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”-a visual recount of the twisted, yet faithful man’s take on a flirtatious waitress. Its drums, keys and vocal arrangement remain a defining moment in Prince recordings.

The funker was back with “Housequake” and “Hot Thing” reaching for his rawer b-side-type of grit.

The rock and roller from “Let’s Go Crazy” was alive and well even with or without the band he handed that credit over to. “Play in the Sunshine,” “U Got the Look” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” convey that utopian Minneapolis black rock only he and his crew are capable of. Female vocals sprinkled throughout made us miss the Wendy & Lisa we’d so come to love, just a little bit less. But by the first album’s end, we missed nothing. As he closes with an ode to his fiancé Susannah Melvoin, the first album leaves as humble, naked and stripped as it started.

No such thing on album two. http://youtu.be/4zNTiaAUEcI

Starting with “U Got the Look,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Strange Relationship” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” It remains the best “side” of any Prince album. The lyrical twists of “Girlfriend” and “Relationship” are a new step in his compositions. Add to that the tracking and musicianship that make the tunes completely unforgettable. Using “Camille,” or whatever the studio trick was to feminize his voice though he was still singing as a man puzzled, plagued and pleased listeners to no end.

As self-conscious as he was, he was more self-less here lyrically than ever before. With the title cut and “The Cross” he spoke of social, political and spiritual issues as he hadn’t since 1999. As a reminder of what he left behind, included here is an unreleased jam from his UK only touring in ’86 with the extended Revolution and something few bands would’ve pulled off as a brand new song. “It’s Gonna to Be a Beautiful Night” was the complete galvanization of the finest musicians and the finest bandleader of the 80’s. The cues and synergy contained in the eight-minute epic was the perfect picture of the pinnacle he’d reached with a band and clear that it would get no better.

So he did the most complex, layered near-solo recording of his career and placed it immediately after the band jam.

“Adore” could’ve simply been a ballad, a love song, a slow jam, or another dedication to Susannah. But it a was damn concerto! The drum program is simple, because we really needed to pay attention to EVERYthing else. The stellar falsetto put Phillip Bailey on his heels for a second. The organs took us to the Hammond B-3 & Leslies of Fort Foote, First Rising, Union Temple or your local Baptist Church. The ridiculous muted Atlanta Bliss trumpet. The bass work most didn’t even notice. The clever, classy, and even comical lyrics… And then, of course, THE VOCALS. From the solo to the choral peak. Find me another man that could record this song or album and I’ll find you Jesus still in the tomb.

Prince
Lovesexy
1988 Paisley Park/Warner Bros. Records
Produced by Prince

As if Around the World in a Day wasn’t a test enough for fans, the cover alone had cats runnin’.

Similar to Al Green’s prayer for purge of his physical urges, perhaps Lovesexy was Prince Rogers Nelson’s plea to God to make sense of his uncontrollable urges as well as an apology for his past deeds-one of them being as recent as the notorious Black Album.

It’s a display of duality, a love for sex and a love for God. A hope that God can either remove the desires or make them mean more than the temporary euphoria. Central to the recording, if not a complete summation of the project, is “Anna Stesia.” All the adrogynous outfitting and questions of Prince’s sexuality may indeed be answered in these opening lines.

“Have you ever been so lonely that you felt like you were the only one in
this world. Have you ever wanted to play with SOMEONE so much you’d take
anyone-boy or girl?”

The drug inducement is personified and begged to bring some clarity.

“Anna Stesia come to me, ravish me, liberate my mind.”

But even deeper are the lines,

“Save me Jesus, I’ve been a fool. How could I forget that You are the rule? You are my God, I am Your child, from now on, for You I shall be wild. I shall be strong. I shall be quick. I tell Your story no matter how long.”

Is it possible that the most passionate individuals are the most sensual and therefore even more in touch with the question of their spiritual place on earth?

Though the Minneapolis genius’ funk roots have not been completely abandoned, they are however, fortunately or unfortunately “beautified” with this project. The title track being one of the funkier of the package even cues the ‘band’ (most of the tune is Prince’s own multi-instrumentation) in a much more sophistifunk, “oh, it needs some bottom in there, lay it on me.” The funkiest of the package is actually the ballad and only survivor of Black. “When 2 R in Love” reminds us how funky this dude is even as a programmer. Like “The Beautiful Ones,” the opening four bars of drum programming demand restarting the track for musicians, and blow out the candles in the same breath for lovers.

The dichotomy of love of the Lord and love for the loins is not new for his royal badness.

“I’m not saying this to be nasty, I seriously wanna fuck the taste out of your mouth” and “I’m in love with God it’s the only way, ’cause you and I know we gotta die someday” both encapsulated in 1999’s “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” already presented this crucial confliction. But on this go round we’re led more to the idea of something Divine from the artwork to the song choruses to the titles. Ending with “Positivity,” we’re given the impression that even if answer of God or sex was ever answered, the question itself was worth this 40+ minute-ride. And as “I Wish U Heaven” states:

“Doubts of our conviction follow wherever we go.”

Prince & The New Power Generation
O)+>
1992 Paisley Park/Warner Bros.
Produced by Prince & The N.P.G.

Upon the seventh day of the sixth month, nineteen hundred and ninety-three, marking the beginning and ending of cycles of creation, Prince, reaching the balance of thirty-five years, put into practice the precepts of perfection: Voicing bliss through the freedom of being one’s self; incarnating the New Power Generation into the close of the six periods of involution, giving birth upon himself to regenerate his name as O(+> — for in the dawn, all will require no speakable name to differentiate the ineffable one that shall remain.

Consider The Revolution’s concept to death was a mere four albums and just as few years. The “New Power Generation” was a much more thought out or over thought concept, mantra and eventual band starting from the post-glory Lovesexy album in ’88. With something old (mentor, Sonny T on bass), something new (teenaged virtuoso, Michael Bland on drums, Tommy Barbarella on organs, and Morris Hayes on keys) something borrowed (former Sheila E. guitarist, Levi Seacer) and something blue (his painstaking refrain from attack on the lady in waiting, Mayte), he conceptualizes and executes his last great full length.

“My name is Prince, I don’t wanna be king. ‘Cause I’ve seen the top and it’s just a dream. Big cars and women and fancy clothes will save your face, but it won’t save your soul. I’m here to tell you, there’s a better way. Would our Lord be happy if He came today? I ain’t saying I’m better, no better than you. But you want to play with me, you better learn the rules. My name is Prince, and I am funky. My name is Prince, the one and only. I did not come to fuck around. ‘Til I get your daughter, I won’t leave this town.”

The once purple, peach, platinum and soon to be gold (in more ways than one) Prince has earned the right to a little pomposity. Now with a mostly black band unafraid of him, a new muse, an approaching bridge of his age, career & contract with WB, Prince narrates the rock, sometimes soap, opera of an autobiography, courtship of Mayte Garcia, and a Revelation-tinged saga.

Simultaneously brilliant and brilliantly confusing, the trek through JB-esque funk & horns (“Sexy M.F.”), reggae (the irresistible “Blue Light’), electronica/dance (“Melt With You”), jazzy cool (“Love 2 the 9’s”) and balladry harkening to his sugary 2nd album formula (“Sweet Baby” & “Damn U”).

The album’s only weakness is his pre-occupation with (or fear of being eclipsed by) rap music. While he and Tony M sometimes subsist the hip hop waters they dare to travel, it gets really worn out near the album’s fourth quarter. “Morning Papers” as the first non-rapped song on the album spills his guts about the baby girl he’s been praying away the desire to usurp the youth of. With this and “And God Created Woman,” Michael Bland’s meter and touch shines through giving the NPG a polish Prince’s music’s never had before. Bland just as easily murders the set on the climactic “3 Chains O’ Gold.” In Queen honor, “3 Chains” harkens to “Bohemian” and gives the album the final cinematic blow it needs to follow his lyrically gifted, “7.”

Smoothing or roughing the edges of his biggest commerical success since Purple Rain with Diamonds and Pearls, Prince makes grand use of the 79:59 now possible for one release, having stretched it to the limit four times now. Where he excels is in rarely being pointless in his long form executions and once again delivers a full, if not overweight project best summing up the mid-point of his first thirty years in music.

”I know joy lives around the corner. One day I’ll visit her I’m gonna. When she tell me everything, that’s when the angels sing. That’s when the victory is sho ‘nuff…
My feet, Lord, they might get tired, but I gotta keep on walking down this road and when I reach my destination, yeah. That’s when my name will be Victor.

Amen.”

Misappropriated

Lauryn Hill

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Produced by Lauryn Hill & New Ark

1998 Sony Music

Developed and groomed right before our eyes, Lauryn Hill acted, sang and rapped her way into our hearts from a soap opera childhood to Sister Act 2 teen hood to the international rap star catapulting the Fugees to multi‑platinum sales.

We still weren’t ready for the comprehensive debut solo project The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill would be. Teased by “Sweetest Thing” from Love Jones and “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” from Conspiracy Theory, we were anxious, but not ready.

When radio was set ablaze by “Lost Ones” announcing the imminent release, we KNEW we weren’t ready. The boom bap track screamed the rawness of DJ Premier. The Busta Rhymes style of rhyme, like her Fugees verses, was that of no other female rapper before. And the lyrics? Inferring a divorce from an unnamed cohort from her former life, the flow rode the line between aggressive & tongue-in-cheek. And everyone was trying to memorize it! “On” on first verse, “old” on second verse, and “ah” on the third, “all together now…”

Properly placed as the first song following a classroom attendance Lauryn was absent for, “Lost One” separated her from her “past” making way for her present and future, musically and emotionally.

As the classroom segues illustrate kids who seem to “get” what Lauryn apparently did not when it comes to understanding love, “Ex Factor” ensues and introduces the brilliance of a songwriter we did not know Lauryn was.

“It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard. Loving you is like a battle and we both end up with scars.”

She cries so beautifully and harmonically it’s impossible not to sing and cry with her. The album offers more doses in the heartbreak and healing direction with “When it Hurts So Bad” and “I Used to Love Him,” with the latter offering a duet with Mary J. Blige. But where Miseducation astounds is its marriage of the emotional confession and advice with social stance and ethnic pride. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” blasts the failures of the black family dissecting the women and men, but in a tone where even if finger pointing can’t be denied sonically or realistically. “Superstar” makes its statements about the music industry, but even more so about the music and musicians themselves. Ironic considering that amidst the neo-soul wave, there are still questions of music integrity. Hill and fellow soul “next” generation member, D’Angelo, collaborate on one of the most memorable soul ballads since Marvin & Tammi/Donny & Roberta with “Nothing Even Matters.” If ever there was tune to make couples hold tighter to each other or make a single person yearn for a mate, it’s in this harmonic, Rhodes-filled masterpiece.

While Miseducation benefits from the hungry New Ark hip hop production, Lauryn’s Fugees studio and stage experience, and even more recently Wyclef’s Carnival, it’s still Hill’s incredible songwriting, rhyme skills and stellar vocals that make it a one of a kind project never to be matched or outdone to this day. She wanted the record classified as hip hop as she believed hip hop should be as all encompassing and unboxed as this.

Certain albums aren’t meant to be “followed up.”

Don’t It Make My Brown Eyed Soul Blue

“It ain’t ‘White Boy Day’ is it?” – Drexel (Gary Oldman, True Romance)


Jon B.
Cool Relax
Yab Yum/550 Sony Music 1997
Produced by Jon B., Keith Andes, Johnny J., Marc Nelson, David Foster

Jon B’s debut got him placed as well as he could be as an artist. But it did nothing of the promotion and praise of his songwriting. Partially because his own compositions 85% of the project leaned in directions the label was afraid to commit to pushing him in (pop/adult contemporary) or straight up quiet storm R&B.  Hard on a 21 year-old white kid comfy in black and white circles to get paid properly in ’95. No Eminem, Thicke, or Justin Timberlake to help translate for the masses.

Jonathan Buck was known lil’ more than a Babyface protégé despite compositions for After 7 and Toni Braxton before his sophomore album appeared in ’97.  Despite having shown ease in pop, hip hop and R&B productions on his debut, the promotion of the Face songs as the singles severely down played Buck’s own artistry despite some truly impressive songwriting even Face couldn’t offer.

Cool Relax was a breath of urban contemporary fresh air in ’97. Where everyone else in R&B capable of writing a decent song was being forced into the “neo” realm of rimshots and Roy Ayers, and hip hop was the most commercially successful despite the ultimate price being paid in the deaths of Pac and Big, plain ol’ good music wasn’t marketable.

The catch 22 of Buck being a great composer and potential pop and/or R&B star is that he was talented in more areas than the public or industry was ready for. To write the R&B song of the year, but be able to deliver one of Diane Warren’s trademark ballads, AND voice/direct one of 2Pac’s final gems is too unorthodox, and unfortunately, unappreciated.

The ingredients for Cool Relax weren’t totally different from Bonafide, the dosages were delivered a little different on each. Babyface’s two contributions this time are not the singles, but “Pride and Joy” featuring Milestone (Edmonds & Haleys) on background vocals would be a classic urban or adult contemporary ballad on any other project. But Jon had a few extra strength mid-tempos and ballads of his own that beat it to the punch.  “They Don’t Know” was the one of the biggest R&B songs of 1998, the peak of a succession in charting not accomplished on R&B charts by a white man before.  “I Do (What’cha Say Boo)” and “Can We Get Down” were executed from rooter to tooter as any Devante Swing or Teddy Riley new jack ballads, with the lyrical upgrade Buck was gifted enough to scribe. 

The hip hop sensibilities were upped in dosage here too, where “Can’t Help it” and “Cool Relax” (the latter assisted by Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammed) reiterate his ease in phrasing and programming for jeeps too.  The exclamation point on this is “Are You Still Down” where Jon and Pac help a young lady out of a less than desirable relationship.

One last dose of JB’s compositional grandeur is the throwback ballad “I Ain’t Goin’ Out.” In programmed ’97 technology it’s a catchy, grown-up ballad, from the “stay home tonight” sentiment to the melody and arrangements. But listen for the keys, bass, and rhythm arrangement that mask a traditional doo-wop 70s ballad. He was about the most multi-dimensional artist out. This was illuminated with the inclusion of a gem from the “songstress” herself, Diane Warren. “Tu Amor” couldn’t land on on a better album in ’97.  For me, R&B was no purer or finer than Cool Relax at the time. Jon had toned down his prolific ballads, but turned up the hybris of his hip-hop and R&B chambers making him even more accessible to R&B audiences since the industry and perhaps society at the time wasn’t ready for one to succeed on all charts the way it would take Justin Timberlake ten more years to achieve.

Definition

Blackjackets: 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute is a celebration of Black art in music over the last 50 years. Showcasing specifically artists that have blueprinted, influenced or dominated the Black charts and/or box offices with their definitive Long Play formats, Blackjackets, is an historic, but entertaining account of too seldom heralded Black legends. Where The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin usually dominate other “classic” album discussions & publications, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire appear here as comparable juggernauts.

Blackjackets honors the seminal works of Black acts in jazz, blues, soul, rap, but most importantly, American music.

Earth Wind & Fire
That’s the Way of the World
1975 Columbia/CBS Records
Produced by Maurice White & Charles Stepney

“Plant your flowers and you’ll grow a pearl.”

Six years into his third musical venture, and the third incarnation of his own band vision, Maurice White lead a now seasoned, skilled and newly successful Earth Wind & Fire into their the next elevation. With the foresight and ingenuity of Clive Davis bringing the group to CBS from an nearly fatal stint at Warner Bros., Maurice added the proper “elements” to round out the sound, arrangements and compositions with Philip Bailey’s incredible falsetto and lyrics and Charles Stepney’s co-production.

That’s The Way of the World, began as a song and score for a Sig Shore film of the same name featuring Harvey Keitel in a somewhat Davis-ish persona. Speaking of the darker side of the music industry (with Clive Davis, an irony we must later discuss), the shoulder shrugging title track states

“We have come together on this special day
To sing our message loud and clear
Looking back we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future pass, they disappear
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ‘cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart ‘cause you’re never old”

It epitomized the Maurice’s mission and the group’s message of spirituality and racial harmony professed since their debut and deepened with their previous Head to the Sky and Open Our Eyes albums. The choral quality achieved by mulit-tracking Bailey and White’s falsettos and adding White’s pastoral tenor gave the group a churchy, but not preachy feel. The sound was so full, the masses had a host of elements to draw them in: the horn section the band was now able to afford fronted by Andrew Woolfolk; the vocals with easy sing-a-long parts as well as stellar choir quality, funk from Verdine White’s bass and Al McKay lightning licks and of course, truly universal messages that were Black-based, but inclusive for all.

The opening, now classic “Shining Star” somewhat starts not just the album, but a new era for EWF as the McKay’s killer guitar, the horn section, Bailey’s vocals and the irresistible chorus comprehensively deliver a sound and message no band of the 70’s, 80’s or after could match.

Bailey’s falsetto standard is set and showcased best with “Reasons,” a ballad that steps away from the messages and speaks more for the one on one making the unit even more human.

As White takes full frontal podium on “All About Love,” it’s clear the Memphis-born brother is a learned minister who decided to take the Word to the masses without labeling it in a way that would exclude any race or religion.

And THAT is where Earth Wind & Fire exceeds where no Gospel artist ever did or could.

“We’ve studied all kinds of cult-sciences, astrology, mysticism and world religion and so forth, you dig?…all these things help because they give you an insight to your inner-self…
You’ve got to love you. You’ve got to love all the beautiful things around you-the trees and the birds.
And if there ain’t no beauty you gotta make some beauty.”

Complete the record with a few instrumental show offs and it was understood for the remainder of the 70’s into the 80’s that the EWF was the band to join, for there was no beating them.

Stevie Wonder
Fulfillingness’ First Finale
1974 Tamla/Motown Records
Produced by Stevie Wonder

Motown’s newly crowned greatest artist was charged with following the ’73 “Album of the Year” and a previous LP that garnered not only two Grammys, but an American classic in “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Could he deliver?

Becoming ever worldlier and ever more disenchanted with United States’ foreign policies, Stevie’s music and social commentary would continue to pervade his projects.

The album’s opening is a light-hearted one though. “Smile Please” enters kinda cool, conga heavy and guitar accented with Sembello.

A smiling face is an earth like star
A frown can’t bring out the beauty that you are
Love within and you’ll begin smiling…
There’re brighter days ahead.

And then it picks up an already encouraging sentiment. The “bom ditty bom” thing is just damn infectious turning our finger snaps to handclaps.

One thing Steveland Morris has the confidence to do with all eyes on him is stand on and proclaim his faith. Without preaching, but without pacifying the otherwise uninterested in religious sentiment, “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” picks up where “Jesus Children of America” left off. Meticulous in his drumming beyond most’s comprehension, the intro rimshots going from whole notes to eighths to whole again shows either painstaking anal retention of perfection of craft. Let’s go with the latter. The chuuch choral hook and finale introduces new Wonderland additions, Minnie Ripperton, Lani Groves, Deniece Williams and special guest, Paul Anka. Sunday morning joy in the most unexpected place so early in the album.

While the playful propositional “Boogie on Reggae Woman” and fed up with Nixonites statement “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” (featuring the Jackson 5ive) are the Grammy award winning singles that brought late comers into FFF, it’s three album cuts that cement the album as more than a fallible follow-up to the greatest album of all time.

“Creepin'” lightly spiced by Ripperton’s backups, “It Ain’t No Use,” as part three of the ex-wife’s odes, and “They Won’t Go When I Go” are some of Wonder’s most brilliant work. The latter’s lyrics surpass what must be an already burdening task of composing for an all-time songwriting God. Yvonne Wright’s disdained composition is laced with an even more haunting and heavy arrangement and vocal from Stevie. The album wraps on a much lighter note however, with “Bird of Beauty” (using Sergio Mendes’ Portuguese translation to help Stevie communicate with his new found friends in Mozambique) is another pretty pairing with the Wonder girls. “Please Don’t Go” again lets loose Steve’s playful and “play full” side to jam out the end to a name appropriate Fulfillingness’ First Finale.

Marvin Gaye
I Want You
1976 Motown Records
Produced by Marvin Gaye, Leon Ware, T-Boy Ross

Falling in love & lust to the tune of imminent divorce and recorded in just under thirty-eight minutes of ecstasy, Marvin Gaye’s genius is captured for the 4th time on I Want You. Following the landmark What’s Going On, jazzy orchestral Trouble Man soundtrack, and brilliant Let’s Get it On, Marvin’s revolutionized the LP format helping to move Motown from their 45rpm glory and near extinction had they not evolved.

The sequencing and framework of I Want You, aided by T-Boy Ross & Leon Ware’s co-production and composing, is where the album excels beyond a mere collection of singles. Using segues and vamps to connect the tunes bringing more attention to sections we might’ve missed, is a thematic, storyboard-type of creativity.

Marvin’s harmonious horniness shines brightest here. The multi-tracking of his vocals showcased so prominently throughout the record and most specifically “Since I Had You” and “Soon I’ll Be Loving You” is another innovation he’s passed on, most notably to Stevie Wonder. As if one continuous session, the hypnosis, whether ours or his own, carries us through a haze of overtures to soon-to-be-wife, Janis and even his babies, Nona, Frankie and Marvin.

How sweet it is to be loved by him.

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
Ask Rufus
1977 ABC Records
Produced by Rufus

Ever expanding, adding and dropping group members, Rufus found their creative apex with the addition of keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski and recording their fifth studio album, Ask Rufus.

Now a formidable and well respected band fronted by one of the 70s most distinctive and charismatic vocalists in Chaka Khan, Rufus advanced past the brass and brawn of most 70s bands with more complex chord and vocal arrangements. Hawk’s inclusion broadens the band’s horizons and audience as he’s introduced with the instrumental piece “Slow Screw against the Wall.”

The band’s overall synergy shows graduation through drummer Andre Fischer’s collaboration with Hawk on “Hollywood,” Wolinski/Khan’s “Egyptian Song” and guitarist Tony Maiden’s dreamy return to Chaka’s side on “Magic in Your Eyes.” The latter musically pushes past their previous signature collaboration “Sweet Thing,” showing that whether supporting Chaka vocally or with his incomparable riffs, they are the true Adam & Eve of this outstanding unit. Adding a spiritual dose harkening to Chaka’s gospel roots, “Earth Song” puts the full in full-length for this recording aided by Maiden’s riffs and composition, Bobby Watson’s bass work and guest star Stones’ guitarist Ron Wood. Funky yet gospel at heart.

Though it’s hard to believe Chaka could actually grow vocally from Rufus’ previous work, but “Everlasting Love” and “Egyptian Song” give perfect platform for her incredible range, phrasing and arrangements. On the former,she climbs with each verse from tenor to contralto with those signature wails, and ultimately stands alone in the female vocal virtuoso dimension and we anxiously await her upcoming debut solo project.

Rufus achieves their first well-deserved million seller with this work and stand in a multi-dimensional artist land only succeeded by Earth, Wind & Fire, who would soon be on their heels with their own full length zenith, All ‘N All.

Forever, For Always, For Luther

Luther Vandross
Forever, For Always, For Love
1982 Epic/CBS Records
Produced by Luther Vandross & Marcus Miller

How does one follow innovation? If you’ve already altered your choice field of art, how can you improve upon that or, at least, repeat the act?
Though he was nearly overwhelmed with a full schedule of touring and production for artists like newcomer Cheryl Lynn, as well as his sheroes Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross managed to meet the newly acquired label deadline for his sophomore project, Forever, For Always, For Love. One of the catchiest sounds on the radio in 1982 (and ever since for that matter) was the opening “Oh yeah!” and Luther’s scatting kicking off the album on “Bad Boy/Having a Party.”

“Well alright!”

It was visual as your last house party whether you were the kid hoping to sneak out or the adults doing the bump at the party. A blend of Luther’s brilliant original with Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” it was yet another testament to Luther’s gift of reworking cover tunes. Packed with party talk and backing vocals you could hear smiles through, everyone within earshot was ‘at the party.’ It was a swing groove arrangement that would be revisited for years to come. “She Loves Me Back” was an undeniable jam due not only to Marcus Miller’s incredible bass work and Doc Powell’s guitar, but Luther’s adaptation and command in a funk pocket definitive to R&B 80’s landscape. It was vocally rhythmic like “Never Too Much,” but even more playful like nothing on Luther’s debut.

“I bought her candy canes and dolls and flowers and I took her to Coney Island. Now who could do more than that?”

Luther had found a way to engage even the younger audiences who may have suffered through their parents’ heavy rotation of the seven minute “House is Not a Home” throughout the previous year. With the lead-off and this one, now even they had some Luther to dig on.

The cover ballad this time was ambitious to say the least-a cover of the David Ruffin-led Temptations singing a Smokey Robinson penned classic, “Since I Lost My Baby.” To handle the work of the Temps backgrounds however, Luther employed his entire background arsenal with the female tones pushing the harmonies. In the hands of less capable arrangers, producers or vocalists, this would not be a recipe for success. But Luther finds a way of making what would otherwise be a depressing lyric, light and even pleasurable. Clocking in under five minutes, it’s simplistically sweet and enough to make even the most die-hard Temps fan appreciate Luther’s rendition.

Unnerving to note, however, is upon its initial release Forever was panned by the critics, namely one Nelson George who in his “Too Much Luther” review wrote, “I’m disturbed by signs of creative stagnation…” and called much of the album “barely tolerable filler.” Perhaps George caught on to the fact that three of the sophomore release’s tunes were near carbons of tunes on his landmark debut. But “Bad Boy,” “Once You Know How” and “She Loves Me Back” were definite upgrades from their mirrors.

And if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

To use a quote of what George claimed “self-indulgent” title cut: “I’d be a fool to ever change if she says she loves the way I am.” Ignored by the less than favorable critics is the treasure found in the title cut and “Promise Me.” Both starting with self-assessments that draw us more into Luther’s conversational approach to balladeering, the former is a subtle, but effective marital ode caressed by sweeping string arrangements. It is patient, but not long-winded. The latter is a bit more stripped down-merely Luther, Marcus, Doc, Yogi Horton on drums and, of course, Nat Adderly Jr. on keys. No dramatic strings here and as with the title cut, no background assistance-just the confronting verse, reflective and hopeful bridges, and finally, the reeling plea of the chorus: “Promise me you’ll leave me never, and that we’ll be in love forever.”

Luther seemed not only to deflect the sophomore slump, but to do it with ease and joy as opposed to succumbing to newly found pressure from all around. When up-tempo, it was a blast. When mellow it was serene, sanguine and adoring. Forever, For Always for Love compliments Luther’s previous work like knife-to-fork and creates another staple position in the black music definitive jukebox.