What’s a reviewer to do when all he does is stew aboutVoodoo? Being out of the loop, not having heard of Michael “D’Angelo” Archer until late last century, witnessing the pre-release anticipation but shunning it as my jaded exterior is impervious to the manipulation machine. Months go by, and everyone is talking about him, his “Untitled” video, his body (an abundance of print ads, wall murals and billboards), his sold-out shows (5 nights at the House of Blues in L.A.), and then the assignment drops...D’Angelo as a Publisher’s Pick in All About Jazz.
“Yea, Hello...Virgin Publicity Department...can you send me a media kit on D’Angelo?” Boom...one day later a 5-pound packet arrives...rave reviews from the New York Times, New York Post, Newsday, Village Voice, Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Phoenix, The Fort Worth Star- Telegram, USA Today, Maxim, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Vibe, Essence, Pulse!, Spin, Hollywood Reporter and the list goes on ad infinitum. And the comparisons don’t get any deeper than: Marvin Gaye, Prince, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, and Sly Stone. Six months built to rest on a single defining moment...I stubbornly resist for an extra week... no one can really be all that.
The deadline was approaching and I couldn’t put it off any longer, so I removed my shoes and put on a pair of snug fitting Voodoo moccasins. Would the Voodoo tracks be incantations or merely just another collection of slickly produced fodder? The anticipation was deafening, so just before midnight, candles and incense were lit, the windows were closed and the volume was turned up and “Playa Playa” crept out, invoking an image of a musical train seen far off in the distance, slowly getting bigger as it gets closer, but the closer it gets, the more one is comforted by the truth. Instead of rolling over you, it surrounds you with a deep thick infectious groove that, at first, shadows and then envelopes your senses in such a way that is equal bits liberating, intoxicating and hypnotic...you close your eyes and are transported into another dimension. In fact, if the song had gone on for 90 minutes, I wouldn’t have minded, as it’s an uplifting soul ride, different yet similar to that of a Jamband gravy train or a Pink Floyd intergalactic space trip. There is no allegiance to the tried and true formula, light the match and the candle burns differently each time. And it’s heat reaches deep on tracks like “One Mo’Gin” and “Devil’s Pie”.
Not only, is one immediately drawn to the rhythm of the groove, but the way in which D’Angelo’s passionate soul ramblings manifest as an enriching potion allowing the ritual to constantly simmer, but never boil over...kind of like Grandma’s 24-hour sauce, the longer it takes to prepare, the more pleasure it provides upon ingestion. As essential ingredients, D has enlisted some of the finest purveyors of artistic evocation, eloquently dubbed the Soultronics, which include jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, guitarists Charlie Hunter & Raphael Saadiq (Lucy Pearl, Tony! Toni! Tone!), drummer Ahmir (?uestlove) Thomson (The Roots) and rappers Method Man & Redman. It is entirely evident that Voodoo was recorded live with no overdubs as a mood permeates and transforms each composition, reaching a destination that could not have been dreamt of at lift-off (120 hours of music have been captured...so maybe 30 years from now, the outtakes will be released).
Deja Voodoo? Do you hear hints of Stevie Wonder in “Spanish Root”, Al Green in a cover of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” or Prince in “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”? Unquestionably, but when was the last time, all of those names were uttered in a single sentence trying to describe someone. Lofty comparative terms of endearment, like a dog tag around his neck as a measurement to let others know the level of our convictions, as if our opinions are anything other than opinions. One day, the next new “voice” will stand before us and D’Angelo’s name will be among those in the comparison pot. So, he’s this generations’ Marvin Gaye...great...can we get past that and focus on the more important things in life...joy, giving, sharing, teaching, loving, expression, and the way music enhances, shapes and touches our spiritual existence.
We need to get back to the core root of music. Have we all become attention deficit, preprogrammed soulless feathers of the flock awaiting guidance, misunderstanding gratification for enlightenment? The last 20 years of squawk box eye candy have deteriorated a ritual as old as existence itself. Music should make you feel, make you move, make you question, make you explore, make you think! Do prefabricated visual interpretations cloud the experience by pillaging the imagination and its direct connection to the musical experience, sacrificing its purity? A chosen favorite album should guide the listener on a unique mental image journey each time, not the same one over and over. Conceptual videos should be banned.
And I can feel the eyes rolling. Does the inner collective pulse of the female species quicken with the added visual stimulation of D’Angelo’s self-acknowledgement of human sexuality’s evocative power? A rhetorical inquisition for sure, but music is too personal to let someone else interpret it, but to each their own, because if the video inspires you to feel something powerful, than it has served it’s purpose.
Voodoo emulates this power. It’s a record you put on and let it seep in, soaking your essence and one that evolves over subsequent listens. As most jazz aficionados will already attest to, a truly classic record is not one you can turn on and off as if it were only a switch. It’s an important ingredient of an otherworldly experience...whether you have a lover, a bottle, a pipe, a book or just an eager sets of ears, Voodoo’s an aural aphrodisiac. When you set the needle down on Miles’ Kind of Blue or Coltrane’s Giant Steps or Dexter Gordon’s Go, you have an ulterior motive, you seek to escape, to enjoy, to experience, to extrapolate your inner demons. This process is a musical form of Voodoo, which Sir D’Angelo discovered while making this record, and hopes you will too. Rating 5 out of 5 stars
Tracks: Playa Playa / Devil’s Pie / Left & Right (featuring Method Man and Redman) / The Line / Send It On / Chicken Grease / One Mo’Gin / The Root / Spanish Joint / Feel Like Makin’ Love / Greatdayndamornin’/Booty / Untitled (How Does It Feel) / Africa