Drunk –  Johnny Crown (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0732945388_16If R&B is built around sleekness and Hip-Hop comes from an edgier place then they find perfect union in Johnny Crown’s musical creations. D’Usse (other brands of Cognac are also available), the first single from the album Drunk, blends a slick urban vibe with a slow rolling R&B groove and the heavy kick of a trap backbeat. It is effortlessly cool and as a sound track seems to describe the heady lifestyle of the great and good, or at least the aspirations of one. And whilst it is easy to level accusations of self-aggrandisement at many artists working in similar fields today, D’Usse aims to be sensual and sassy rather than posturing and self-serving, it is seductive and elegant rather than brash and boisterous. Did I say aims to be? This is actually right on target and also perfect for both the commercial market and the more discerning, underground listener.

And D’Usse is the perfect calling card for the round of musical drinks that the album is built on. 12 songs all with titles referencing different alcoholic beverages and cleverly working the qualities, features and effects of those drink into these uptown bar tales. And just like the liquor itself, each song is a heady mix of flavours, Hello Henessey is built around a edgy and warped groove, all alien electronica and staccato beats, Crown Royal is blend of old-school soul and futuristic R&B and Ace of Spades is a finely tuned, spacey and spacious glitch-hop trip.

It’s a clever concept, one which in lesser hands could end up cliched and over worked, but Johnny Crown isn’t your usual bar fly, where some would find only the seedier side of life, he finds a much classier world, a world of eloquent wordplay and elegant, state of the art music, one of desirable women and high living and one that looks so much better with a drink or two crossing through his veins. Drunk? Maybe but it is the good life that he is intoxicated with.

If the single shows that Johnny Crown knows how to pen the perfect commercial song, the album as a whole really opens things up and proves that he can take his music in almost any direction he likes, rooted in the same core elements of soul, hip-hop and R&B but not afraid to push those sounds into fascinating new territories. Even in the crowded musical scene of his Los Angeles base, Johnny Crown is certainly one to watch.

 

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Another Man’s Woman – Kenny Fame (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22491822_1272265402879322_7559313500341619990_nThe last time Kenny Fame crossed my path it was with his wonderfully adventurous e.p. An Intimate Portrait, a collection of songs which really explored what modern R&B could be about. And if then he toyed with nu-jazz, soul, progressive pop and even offered some fascinating new song structures and played with the idea of space and atmosphere, here we find him on slightly more conventional ground. I say slightly because he is still very much his own man, doing R&B his own way but still tipping his hat to some of the more expected conventions.

The result is a slow groove through soulful territory, the same late night vibe that flavoured his previous work and the same personal narratives and heartfelt sentiments. In a world of revolution, where genres are split, fused and rewired into strange hybrids, this feels a lot more like evolution. It is certainly remoulding the traditions of the genre and moving them forward into the early light of a new musical era but it does so at a speed which even the most retro-loving pop-soul groover will be happy with. Sometimes change is only noticeable when you look back to see just where you came from. Kenny Fame represents change but somehow stability at the same time. That’s going to keep everyone happy I reckon.

New Music of the Day – CCXII: Joy To The Girl – Nick Black

20245475_1564887303562305_1359988134592340101_nWell, if that isn’t the feel good hit of the summer I’d like to know what is! As earnest heroes of indie crank out earnest indie songs, rockers master their clichéd poses and pop divas suggest pointless dance routines which everyone will have given up on by next week, Nick takes a simpler approach.

Simple, infectious, joyous abandon…. pop-soul style. How can you not like this guy, he makes great videos, doesn’t take himself seriously and is obviously having a lot of fun. Even without the video it’s a real earworm of a song, try getting that chorus out of your head once you have heard it.

Sassy, funky, groovesome, fun, frivolous and flippin’ great. I’m sure that the guy is many leagues down a very successful career path but there is part of me that really wishes that the place in the video is somewhere that he works part time…you know just between national tours and winning awards.

 

The Drunken Buddhist – Nick Driver (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2086147176_16It isn’t often that you stick an album on only to find track one being a cross between an advert for the music to follow, an admonishment of the listener about the cultural effects of not paying for music and a musing about the availability of prescription drugs. Once that sinks in it is difficult to imagine what is going to follow, but you are certainly thinking that is not going to conform to the usual musical templates. And you’d right….sort of.

Musically it wanders between smooth r’n’b and pop infused folk, rather than the musical avant-gardening that the opening rant-o-mercial might have suggested, but it is all about context really. If the likes of Captain Beefheart had grown up on hip-hop or Zappa had sought out a commercial pop career, the result may not have been too dissimilar to this. Sure, it’s musically different, the product of an altogether different evolutionary path but the same attitude and off kilter sense of humour beats at the heart of The Drunken Buddhist that they would have warmed to, especially lyrically.

Don’t Spit in My Food is a tongue in cheek tale right out of the Zappa songbook but updated for the Tinder age, I’m Gonna Party is (hopefully) a parody of the cliché the runs through the centre of contemporary music and the fact that the brilliantly named The Not So Noble Truth’s Voicemails Interlude is a collection of weird messages and mumbled conversations is just a strange added bonus.

The joy of the album is that it is so well done that you lose sight of where the line is, the one between its more serious moments and its parody of modern music. But then again, satire works best when it walks such a fine line.

An Intimate Portrait – Kenny Fame (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

 

a1525039913_16I guess the question that this short collection of music asks us is this….where next for the seemingly tried and tested format of contemporary R&B? And without deviating too far from the recognisable traits of the genre…smooth, beat driven soulful melodies…Fame still manages to find some interesting new places to explore.

For a genre normally associated with slick textured layers and a musically full sound, here he explores a more spacious, atmospheric style, with the likes of Friend Zone taking a staccato, almost dystopian route. Dystopian R&B…now there’s a genre we haven’t come across before.

Music in Your Life builds on this template pushing the beat into a more familiar, dance driven environment but it is the final song, I Want It All, that is the pay off, taking the disparate strands he has worked with so far and combining them into a late night, slow burning, nu-jazz meets R&B trip.

Although there are only three full songs here, the lyrics that take you on a short journey that wanders between club encounters, the ability of music to make you forget the grind of everyday life and heartfelt reflections on relationships, form a personal narrative which perfectly justifies the title of An Intimate Portrait.

Even the format shows some outside the box thinking with short spoken word sound bites linking the songs proper and again showing that if you thought that there were no new musical territories to conquer within the dance/soul/R&B world, Kenny Fame will make you think again.

 

 

New Music of the Day – CXXVI : Heaven – Alpines

alpines-cyrus-mahboubianThere was a time when R&B sat on one side of a certain musical divide and music deemed cooler or more cultish sat on the other. One of the aspects of our non-tribal, post-genre musical world, is that as the various barriers have been kicked down, as rules and traditions have been abandoned, the more commercial has been allowed to merge with the underground, or more importantly a whole generation of musician has grown up not even knowing that those restrictions even existed.

London duo Alpines, therefore, represent this perfectly as they merge skittering R&B beats with more cultish underground vibes, music that will both connect with the pop crowd but also has mass appeal to the more discerning markets, music which is at once inventive and clever but without being anything other than a cool, sensual and accessible pop record.

As a teaser for their Sophomore album, Another River, this is a track that neatly sums up why we need to throw away our old prejudiced and divided ways at looking at music genres and embrace a new and holistic musical age.

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