If you are a fan of real soul music then this is an album which certainly deserves your attention, and especially so if you are seeking a refuge from the endless blandishments of over-produced and beat driven synthetic sounding soundscapes - the like of which currently predominate under the banner of what is now termed 'urban' (often used perjoratively as code for 'black') music.
As other reviewers have noted this is an album which is rooted in the traditions of popular black music from the early 1960's (with some references drawn from the 1970's), most notably the sound of Detroit - Motown. This referencing means that the songs are deceptively simple, based on a foundation of real instruments with a directness matched in the song length and the lyrics. There are no drawn out 12" excursions here - which is welcome, given the musical context.
Subjectively, of course, the standout tracks are 'Never Give You Up', a Marvin Gaye inspired paen to love which features the talents of Stevie Wonder, and 'Oh Girl', with its beautifully descending introduction and lush accompanying orchestration (bringing to mind 'The Stylistics').
But it isn't all great. The remix of 'Oh Girl' sees an utterly redundant rap supplied by Jay-Z - which might indicate an intention to aim at a younger audience not necessarily familiar with the musical heritage being mined, but to my mind it stands out as another example of the pointless intrusion of rap (and rappers) in to recordings which can well do without them.
Furthermore, and perhaps more controversially, it has to be accepted that the quality of the Motown catalogue, though variable, could reach unsurpassed heights - and against the very best of that tradition this album can not compete.
But, when considered against much of the material currently being released by black artists, this represents an opportunity to relax and listen to music free of overt sexual references (subtle can be sexy!) and misogynistic, patronising lyrics.
Considered as a concept album this recording works very well, it is respectful of the tradition it references, and offers a warm, welcome, and reassuringly familiar respite from the modern world.
Worth buying and exploring.
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