Thoughts After a First Listen

I bought a new piece of music today. It is GREAT.

My background and depth of experience with classic Soul and R & B are admittedly limited. We don’t own a lot. A little Al Green and Barry White, some Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder, a fair amount of Prince.

Of course, when I was a little kid, there was an education to be had directly from the radio. In the 1970s, Top Forty stations provided lots of wonderful crossover songs, and I was surely influenced by artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Diana Ross, and TheSpinners.

Some of it was pure weird fun, (Love Train by the O’Jays,) or straight up sexy, (Let’s Get it On by Marvin Gaye,) or both, (Brick House by The Commodores).

Some of it was overtly political, (War by Edwin Starr, or Ball of Confusion by The Temptations).

Some of the social messages were subtler. Like this one, the songs from Innervisions are incredibly durable, and the songwriting among the best in the history of the United States of America.

Too High by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions (1973 Motown).


Some of it was… well… some of it, though every ounce as soulful, every trace as rhythmic, every bit as bluesy…was disco.

Don’t Leave Me This Way by Thelma Houston from Any Way You Like It (1976 Motown



This is the vintage of music that informed my ear as I learned to listen to hip-hop and rap music. It still informs my ear for what Soul and R &B has evolved into with acts like Beyoncé, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, and Justin Timberlake.

Unlike books and poems, records and their songs often have multiple chances make impressions – to unfold artistically before us. I can’t even guess how many times I have literally been impressed by Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, or Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, or Kid A by Radiohead. But I can tell you precisely how many times I have listened to Black Messiah by D’Angelo and The Vanguard. Once. I bought it today and it is GREAT.

I loved this record after just one spin, and it is fun to be able to put these thoughts down without too much background on the release, nor with too many listens stacked up to dilute my first impression.



Black Messiah (2014 RCA) – disclosure of a few things I know:

-I had heard bits of a couple of songs from it on satellite radio and thought, “Huh, this sounds like Prince.”

-It was supposed to come out in 2015 but got an early release. D’Angelo felt that the sentiment and message of this record would have much resonance amid the topical issues in the aftermath of notorious police killings in Ferguson, MO and NYC. After one listen I cannot claim to have picked up on much of that.

D’Angelo’s had a long “absence” and this record is getting lots of acclaim. Actually, critics are flipping out. I can already sense why that is.

-He has help from a ton of BIG names like Questlove and Q-Tip.

So, my first impressions hearing the record as a whole were these: Black Messiah is fantastic and it sounds brand new. There are time signature and percussion elements that remind me of Tom Waits, and there is a lot of guitar-based music here that is reminiscent of our old friend Shuggie Otis.

Aht Uh Mi Hed by Shuggie Otis from Inspiration Information (1974 Epic Records).


But Black Messiah is also a little time machine. Like it’s brethren from the 1970s, (and VERY much like the records of Prince!!) it is funky and fun, straight up sexy, and sonically weird and experimental. (I will have to make lots of additional listens to get the social and political messages that are promised.)

The opener: Ain’t That Easy

The mid point: Till It’s Done (Tutu)

The closer: Another Life



It is super cold and dingy here in early-January. Angry-making cold. Driving down South Street in Lincoln today, I watched a guy step out his front door and chuck a little Xmas tree onto his porch. You know, one of those little three footers.

This three-second play of disposal provided me a nice metaphor for my post-holiday. Especially as I glanced back at some of the end-of-year lists I indulged in.

The tree, now dry and spindly, may once have carried some meaning and enrichment to the fellow. At least it helped to dress up his home and his year a bit. Now it sports an embarrassing droop and is shedding needles on the front porch. It is waiting for its next useful incarnation as mulch.

Some art is rooted and lasting – some art, while no less valid, is decorative, unrooted, and after a while, droops and sheds.

This here D’Angelo record is getting added retroactively to my year-end list for 2014.

8 Jan 2015

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *