D’Angelo – Voodoo (Virgin, 2000)

It’s been nearly five years since D’Angelo’s debut Brown Sugar put the soul back into soul. What once was an R&B wasteland of form over substance has begun to reverse. D’Angelo has a lot to measure up to. On first listen, Voodoo is a slight disappointment. It’s a murky gumbo stew of laid back beats that has more in common with Basehead or Tricky than D’Angelo’s more tuneful debut. Once the expectation for memorable songs are forgotten, the album can be enjoyed for what it is, an extended jam by an able band fronted by The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove, recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studio. The session has a loose, live atmosphere in which clouds of cheeba smoke erupt at every kick of the bass drum. The lazy rhythms underly a tightly woven fabric of sound, with jazzy electric piano, metronome rim shots and layers and layers of buttery vocals. D’Angelo has subtly come up with a sound of his own, finally transcending the comparisons to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Okay, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” does sound like a Prince cover circa 1988, but he manages to make Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” undeniably his own. Other standouts from the purple haze are the trippy hip-hop of “Devil’s Pie,” the percussive funk of “Chicken Grease,” the sumptuously classic-sounding “The Line” and the horn driven head nod to Sam Cooke on “Send It On.” The Latin jazz of “Spanish Joint” briefly raises the energy level just to make sure you’re breathing okay. The rest of the album’s six-plus minute songs are a cut above filler, and with titles like “One Mo’gin” and “GreatDayNDaMornin’/Booty,” suggest that they’re meant to be a backdrop to a 25 year-old’s favorite pastime. Voodoo assures D’Angelo’s place in R&B as a lasting talent with more potential. As with most artists, his lyrical concerns will eventually migrate from booty to politics, world hunger, God, and back to booty. And his faithful followers will enjoy every step of the journey.

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