May 03

D’Angelo And The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Time – 00:56:01 minutes | 1,16 GB | Genre: R&B, Soul, Jazz Funk
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks | © RCA Records

D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s highly anticipated and much buzzed about brand new album, Black Messiah. Nearly 15 years in the making, Black Messiah contains 12 tracks of timeless music with poignant and provocative lyrics that requires repeat listening at maximum volume! On the album, D’Angelo is joined by his band, The Vanguard, alongside Pino Palladino, James Gadson and Questlove on various tracks on the album. All lyrics were written by D’Angelo in addition to Q-Tip and Kendra Foster who both wrote lyrics on several songs.

D’Angelo had this to say about Black Messiah in the album’s forward: “‘Black Messiah’ is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. For me the title is about all of us. It’s about the world. It’s about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah. It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and everyplace where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them. Not every song on this album is politically charged (though many are) but calling this album Black Messiah creates a landscape where these songs can live to the fullest. Black Messiah is not one man. It’s a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”

The one-eighty Questlove promised back in 2012, when the drummer and producer persuaded D’Angelo to perform for the first time in a dozen years, turns out to be closer to a ten. As those who caught later gigs and subsequent uploads could attest, there were no signs that D’Angelo — enigmatic maker of two classics that twisted gospel, soul, funk, and hip-hop with aloof but deep-feeling swagger — was developing his third studio album with production pointers from David Guetta or elocution lessons from Glee’s vocal director. Instead, he’s made another album that invites comparisons to the purposefully sloppy funk of Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. It’s more outward-looking, refined, and bristly than what preceded it, however, and has much in common with releases from retro-progressive peers like Van Hunt and Bilal. D’Angelo retains the rhythmic core that helped him create Voodoo, namely Questlove, bassist Pino Palladino, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and adds many players to the mix, including guitarist Jesse Johnson and drummers James Gadson and Chris Dave. Q-Tip contributed to the writing of two songs, but a greater impact is made by Kendra Foster, who co-wrote the same pair, as well as six additional numbers, and can often be heard in the background. The societal ruminations within the fiery judder of “1000 Deaths,” the dreamy churn of “The Charade,” and the falsetto blues of “Till It’s Done,” fueled as much by current planetary ills and race relations as the same ones that prompted the works of D’Angelo’s heroes, strike the deepest. Among the material that concerns spirituality, devotion, lost love, and lust, D’Angelo and company swing, float, and jab to nonstop grimace-inducing effect. On the surface, “Sugah Daddy” seems like an unassuming exercise in fusing black music innovations that span decades, and then, through close listening, the content of D’Angelo’s impish gibberish becomes clear. At the other end, there’s “Another Life,” a wailing, tugging ballad for the ages that sounds like a lost Chicago-Philly hybrid, sitar and all, with a mix that emphasizes the drums. Black Messiah clashes with mainstream R&B trends as much as Voodoo did in 2000. Unsurprisingly, the artist’s label picked this album’s tamest, most traditional segment — the acoustic ballad “Really Love” — as the first song serviced to commercial radio. It’s the one closest to “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” the Voodoo cut that, due to its revealing video, made D’Angelo feel as if his image was getting across more than his music. In the following song, the strutting “Back to the Future (Part I),” D’Angelo gets wistful about a lost love and directly references that chapter: “So if you’re wondering about the shape I’m in/I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to.” The mere existence of his third album evinces that, creatively, he’s doing all right. That the album reaffirms the weakest-link status of his singular debut is something else. –Andy Kellman

Tracklist:
1 Ain’t That Easy 4:49
2 1000 Deaths 5:49
3 The Charade 3:20
4 Sugah Daddy 5:02
5 Really Love 5:44
6 Back To the Future (Part I) 5:22
7 Till It’s Done (Tutu) 3:51
8 Prayer 4:32
9 Betray My Heart 5:55
10 The Door 3:08
11 Back To the Future (Part II) 2:24
12 Another Life 5:58

Personnel:
D’Angelo – piano, synthesizers, organ, keyboards, guitar, bass, sitar, background vocals
Spanky Alford, Jesse Johnson, Mark Hammond – guitar
Isaiah Sharkey – sitar, guitar
Pino Palladino – bass
Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson – drums, drum programming
James Gadson, Chris Dave – drums
Kendra Foster, Jermane Holmes, Ahrell Lumzy – background vocals
Roy Hargrove – trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, brass
Alex Budman, Anatoly Rosinsky, Assa Drori, Bill Reichenbach (2), Chuck Berghoffer*, Elizabeth Wilson (3), Maurice Grants – strings, woodwind
Brent Fischer – conductor
Gina – vocals [spoken word]