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At first, singer-songwriter Rhett Frazier and producer-drummer Donny Gruender "incorporated" this joint retro-futuristic soul side project just to play around, nothing more than a diversion from their Los Angeles studio session work (Gruender, for example, rocks beats for the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers). But their Escape quickly evolved into its own full-blown monster: Two modernists using hip-hop cut and paste methods to recombine the stylistic DNA of rhythm and rock.
The Motor City gave jazz Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris, Betty Carter and Donald Byrd, and, like these resolute visionaries, Detroit and can be a damn tough yet deeply soulful town: Similarly, every preening Kid Rock stomp that comes screaming out to Escape from Dee-Troyt seems counterbalanced by a ballad that nimbly floats with Marvin Gaye's subtle jazz sophistication.
Escape was produced to sound better played loud, with crackling drums and beats on several tunes that threaten to explode. "Nuthin'" is a riveting declaration of independence framed in a monstrous backbeat stomp, carved out with funky hot rhythm guitar, then signed sealed and delivered by Frazier's treacherous lead vocal. "Heaven" and the concluding "BeLong" swirl hard guitar hooks and bone-crunching drums into boiling cauldrons of hot, thick sound.
Even so, right after "Nuthin'" comes "Faultline," an acoustic guitar slow dive into the deep romanticism of Isley Brothers ballads like "Voyage to Atlantis," a genuinely pretty and surprisingly grown-up pop song; later, the plush strings and gorgeous acoustic piano of "If I Said" seem to honor Earth Wind & Fire.
Sometimes Frazier and Gruender work out these different if not quite competing perspectives in the same tune: In the opening "U Can't Stop," Motown's dance beat thumps beneath rock'n'roll guitars that cut as shiny and hard as assembly line steel, while Frazier's vocal climbs the soulful heights of Eddie Kendricks' classic Temptations' falsetto. The verses to "Is That OK?" glide more slippery hip-hop rails, as its lusty guitar solo and Frazier's double-tracked falsetto introduce the hedonistic funk-rock sound of past master Prince.
Track Listing: U Can't Stop; Mirrors; Nuthin; Faultline; Heaven; Am I Grooving U?; Is that OK?; If I Said; Addie; BeLong.
Personnel: Rhett Frazier: vocals; Donny Gruendler: drums, synthesizers, mangled beats; Christian Lundberg: guitar; Derek Jones: loops; Mike Thompson: keyboards, piano; Denny Freeman: guitar; Mark Goldberg: bass; Jessie Stern: bass; Antoine Salem: acoustic guitar; Dale Jennings: bass, twelve-string guitar.