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Album of the Year: D'Angelo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah | reviews, news & interviews

Album of the Year: D'Angelo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah

Album of the Year: D'Angelo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah

The album of the year was released TODAY? Better believe it...

'Black Messiah': hype? Only just...

Pity everyone who's already published their albums of the year lists. Like Beyonce in 2013, D'Angelo has just thrown the most humungous spanner in the works, and changed the year's musical landscape in a single day. Pity, too, everyone else who's released a record even vaguely in the vicinity of hip hop / soul / R&B today, as they might as well be shouting in a vacuum (especially poor Tenessee rapper Starlito who managed to drop an album on the same day as Jay-Z's Magna Carter Holy Grail last year, and now has to deal with this).

Yes, this was just released today, and yes, it is an album of the year – perhaps even the album of the year. No, this is not hyperbole. One is always nervous about the return of a musician after a long break – and never more so than when that musician is surrounded by rumour about mental ill-health and problems dealing with fame – but when it's D'Angelo, the closest thing the modern era has to a Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder, those nerves were seriously jangling for fans all over the world.

It's hard even to know where to start with what's good about it. The sultry grooves of D'Angelo's 1995 Brown Sugar and 2000 Voodoo gave each album a highly distinctive quality, but Black Messiah seems even more distinct, even more complete, even more total. A collective spanning generations of great soul musicians, from James Gadson (the drummer on classics like 'Aint No Sunshine') to godlike Welsh session bassist Pino Palladino to George Clinton collaborator Kendra Foster and A Tribe Called Quest leader Q-Tip (who serve as co-lyricists) draw rock, gospel, complex jazz harmonising, hip hop punch, dub space and a whole lot more into a rich and intensely flavoured stew of sound.

It's all completely in service of the songs, and of D'Angelo's voice, though. Whatever troubles he may or may not have come through, he doesn't sound anything but assured and powerful. There's no sense of production or orchestration needing to support a flawed artist: this is one of the greatest vocalists of his generation absolutely at the peak of his powers, with songs that are worthy of that voice. Add to that a sense of mature, burgeoning political consciousness that provides post-Ferguson black American rage with a sound as surely as Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield did for the post-Civil Rights movement, and you can hopefully agree that this is something worth getting giddy about. 2014 just got a whole lot better.

Black Messiah seems even more distinct, even more complete, even more total than its predecessors


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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