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Eugene McDaniels: Screams and Whispers

Dave Wayne By

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Eugene McDaniels—vocalist, lyricist, fearless social commentator, and composer of massive hits such as "Compared to What" and "Feel Like Makin' Love"—is back. Sample-hungry DJs have been snapping up 30+ year-old vinyl copies of his Joel Dorn-produced, futuristic folk/funk/gospel/jazz fusion LPs ( Outlaw and Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse ) for quite some time now. Besides offering sweet soul, unusual arrangements, and seriously funky beats, McDaniels' raw nerve approach to socio-political matters on tunes such as "Love Letter To America," "Supermarket Blues," "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse" and "Freedom Death Dance" made him a charter member of Tricky Dick's Enemies List. Sadly, the lyrics he wrote 35 years ago still ring true today. The 30-odd years between McDaniels' last commercial release as a featured vocalist (he produced movie soundtracks, and several jazz, funk, and R&B artists through the late '70s and '80s, and collaborated with Carri Coltrane on three CDs in the late '90s) have not dulled his impassioned, liquid tenor voice one iota.

Musically, Screams and Whispers is an incredibly mixed bag. McDaniels veers wildly among a variety of musical approaches and styles with varying degrees of success. Though the performances (particularly McDaniels' vocals) are consistently excellent, some of the material is pretty thin. This is most evident on the half-dozen or so tracks dominated by heavily programmed and synthesized musical backdrops produced by Eugene's son, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/co-producer Mateo McDaniels. McDaniels' pere doesn't sing on two of these ("You've Taken All" and "Vampire").

Though Mateo has inherited some of his dad's gifted ways with words (sung, written and spoken), his music has a disappointing tendency towards slick, pop trendiness. An exception is the slyly stuttering, dubby "Fill You Up"—which is graced by Eugene McDaniels' particularly fiery vocalizing. More successful—for the most part—are the pieces with less programming, and more of a "band" sound. Two of these ("Trapped" and "Future") are hard-charging, basic blues riffs that would fit right into Mose Allison or Robert Cray's repertoire. "Nuclear Dancing" is a powerful, fusionesque, multi-sectioned piece that recaptures some of the trippy magic from "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse." Here, McDaniels' crafty lyrics could be making an open-ended statement about either missile defense or family dynamics.

But the most poignant moments on Screams and Whispers happen when McDaniels lets his voice flow freely and effortlessly over relatively spare musical backings. "Long Way From Home" offers a chilling and stark improvised exploration of "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child," accompanied only by Ted Brancato's piano and acoustic bass. McDaniels' rapier wit comes to the fore on "Too Rare"—a swinging, stinging indictment of organized religion that proves that McDaniels has not lost his edge. Though Screams and Whispers is a tentative and musically uneven CD, the return of the Left Rev. McD is a most welcome event. We need him now more than ever.


Track Listing: Trapped; Nuclear Dancing; You've Taken All; Dila; Future; Too Rare; Alien; Vampire; All Night; Fill You Up; Long Way From Home

Personnel: Eugene McDaniels - lead vocals (1-2, 4-7, 9-11), backing vocals (8); Mateo (teo) McDaniels - lead vocals (8), backing vocals (2, 3, 7, 8, 10), programming / keyboards (3, 7, 8, 10), bass (3); Leyna - lead vocals (3); Carri Coltrane - backing vocals (5-7, 9), keyboards / pads (5, 7, 9); Django McDaniels - backing vocals (7); Ted Brancato - keyboards (1, 3-6, 9-11); bass (1, 2, 5, 11); drums (2); Ron Carter - bass (6); John Patti - electric guitar (1, 7, 9), electric bass (1); Woody Allen - guitar (2, 3, 10); Mark Lucas - guitar (4); Matt Langley - saxophones (4-6); Joey DeFrancesco - trumpet (6); Mateo Day - trumpet (5); Willie Johnson - trombone (5); Eddie Dickhaut - drums (1, 2); Christopher McDaniels - drums (4); Payton Crossley - drums (6)

Title: Screams and Whispers | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Gene Pool Entertainment

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