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Outstanding Rhythm & Blues and Soul albums from 2012: the artistes who gave a wonderful voice to soul
Respect - Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul
WIth 2012 having just come to a close, it is time to pay tribute to the great men and women of R and B and Soul, who have given the music genre a wonderful voice in the past year.
The genre has risen greatly in popularity and given birth to a new, talented group of stars over the past two decades, like Usher, Monica, Ryan Shaw, Estelle among the many that deserve mention but are difficult to list completely.
So I present a review of some of the most outstanding R and B albums of the year. Do enjoy the musical efforts of these soulful, youthful gentlemen and ladies.
Thinkin of You
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
Channel Orange is testimony to this artistes ability to hold a lyrical narrative. He is effectively able to play with words in Thinkin’ About You:
"A tornado flew around my room before you came
Excuse the mess it made
It usually doesn't rain in Southern California, much like Arizona
My eyes don't shed tears, but boy they bawl when I'm thinkin' 'bout you."
The levels of emotion expressed are a tribute to Ocean’s apt lyric technique. The metaphors and similes used are nothing short of poetic. Throughout the album, Ocean maintains themes, touching class boundaries. His song, Sweet Life, is a tale about a spoiled, rich kid who has no curiosity about life outside his own world. His music is both rich and insightful. Channel Orange was certainly a stand out album of 2012.
When a man lies
Write Me Back by R Kelly
R Kelly has proven himself to be the master of Retro with the release of his second straight album, Write Me Back. Again, he presents songs which sound as though they were recordings of the 1950’s and 60s.
Write Me Back is a sequel to his album Love Letter. He pays tribute to various great artistes, including Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson. Among the series of well-written and well-sung songs are tracks like Clipped Wings and When A Man Lies, the lyrics of which are lessons on how untold truths can really take their toll on relationships.
If you like retro but are also in search of modern twists, do give Kelly’s album a listen if you have not yet already done so.
Girl on Fire Alicia Keys
Keys musical mastery is clearly unquestionable. A classically trained pianist and superb vocalist, she brought us power ballads like Fallin’ and You Don’t Know My Name. With Girl on Fire, she brings to listeners a variety of high energy songs like New Day and the album’s title track.
Her music has clearly taken on a more aggressive feel in this album. Though a departure from the sensuous vibe her music is usually known for, Keys does not disappoint with tracks that still speak of precise piano playing and vocal skills.
For a bolder, even more confident Alicia, do check this album out.
Brand New Day Alicia Keys
Till I met thee Cody Chesnutt
Landing on a Hundred by Cody Chesnutt
Chesnutt’s earlier effort, The Headphone Masterpiece, was one that did not initially make much impact on the charts. Still, his talent has not gone unnoticed and Chesnutt had his share of devoted followers. And this group certainly grew by leaps and bounds after the release of his second album, Landing on a Hundred.
Landing on a Hundred is much more polished than The Headphone Masterpiece, released ten years earlier. It is also much more polished sonically and vocally. The brilliance of this album shows because Chesnutt is unlike man singers who take a long hiatus only to return with sounds that are a little out of touch with the times.
Chesnutt certainly presents an album of soul that speaks of the music of this era. Yet, he captures the true essence of soul in his music. If you have not already gotten to know him, you just might like his album!
K Jon Will You Be There
Movin’ On by K Jon
K Jon’s effort is built on the success of his earlier album, On the Ocean. Released in April 2012, it was definitely one of the better R and B albums in the first half of the year.
K Jon stands out because he has lyrical substance. Most R and B music take on fun-loving themes like partying or well-used ones like romance and break ups. Jon does discuss these, but takes on other slightly more sensitive and gritty subjects in his music. The track Will You Be There is about a man who wonders whether his partner will stick by him through the rough times:
"I been goin' through some things, been dealing with some changes, but girl I got one question: will you be there?”
It is very thought provoking especially during these tough economic times. The sound of children’s vocals in the background are also very touching. What makes Jon’s album quality R and B is the fact that he does lose sense of the common man’s perspective in his music, touching base with many listeners and fans.
Look Around the Corner by Alice Russell and Quantic
Alice Russell is lesser known than her soul singing peers Joss Stone, Adele or the late Amy Winehouse, but is clearly as musically talented. With her pairing with producer Quantic, she shows that she is deserving of the accolade of being one of the better soul singers of our time.
The album shows Russell’s love for classic soul. But Russell and Quantic show their originality and do not make carbon copies of soul sounds. In other words, it strikes the balance between presenting one’s own style and adhering to musical norms.
Russell’s throaty vocals give the album its soul substance. One of the soulful tracks is I’ll Keep My Light In My Window. Check out this underrated but clearly great talent.
Alice Russell Look Around The Corner
Loving You More .....in the spirt of Etta James by Leela James
Leela James clearly does a fitting tribute to the music of Etta, who died of leukemia in January of 2012. Such a fan was she of Etta’s music that she decided to do a tribute to it and in so doing, gave credence to Etta’s music.
Her singing style is bolder and gutsier that Etta’s bluesy and smooth vocal technique. But both are just as listenable. Leela also does not copy styles of music outright; she does not follow original tracks and their sounds directly. One example is the song At Last, one of Etta’s signatures. Hers was instead a male-female duet between herself and producer Shannon Sanders.
For a little retro doused with originality, check out Leela James.
Letters From Birmingham by Ruben Studdard
The title of his album was taken from A letter from Birmingham jail, an open letter penned by Martin Luther King Junior. However, he does not delve into political content on his album. He traces the evolution of relationships in his album, from love at first sight, to marriage and having children.
As the album progresses, each song serves as an audio letter to a loved one. And it also shows a bolder Ruben wanting to spread his wings. He takes on more daring topics of discussion in his tracks as well. Do check out the latest effort of the American Idol winner.
Rock Wit Cha Ruben Studdard
All of Me by Estelle
Estelle Swaray has finally returned with a follow up album to her earlier effort, Shine, after 4 years. The London Based R and B singer presents an energetic collection of songs that revolve around love and relationships.
This album does not embrace international flavors like Shine; however, it is a great listen. Part of the reason why it was not released earlier is because some of the singles from the album were not well received upon release. Estelle chose to go along the lines of American R and B which her fans like, and it proved to be a wise decision. The album’s most successful single so far is Break my Heart, featuring rapper Rick Ross. My personal favorite from her album is the track Do My Thing an album about expressing one's individuality.
Estelle - Do My Thing
R.E.D by NEYO
One of the more gentlemanly singers of R and B, NEYO certainly shows it in his album, where R.E.D. stands for Realizing Every Dream. He shows his tender and caring side throughout R.E.D.
In the track Jealous, he sings earnestly about how jealousy stands in the way whenever anyone spends more time with his partner. He presents pleasant surprises in this album too. One of them is the track She Is, a collaboration with country singer Tim McGraw.
Do check this album out if you have not already done so.
She Is Ne Yo Featuring Tim McGraw
So Jaded Anthony David
Love Out Loud by Anthony David
Anthony David’s smooth vocals shine through in Love Out Loud. A truly talented and positive singer, his album takes on a clear, optimistic tone.
The most recognizable of any Anthony David song are is semi-raspy yet rich vocals. These come through in Love Out Loud. He embraces the narrative effectively in each song, including such songs as Can’t Look Down and So Jaded, where he sings about being afraid to be involved too emotionally in a relationship. He delves into the passion and pain of being in love in Love Out Loud:
“It can make you weak and it can make you helpless, but it can make you strong and it can make you selfless, It can drive you crazy and it can make you reckless, but it's the only way you'll know you're alive.”
In So Jaded, he sings about being afraid to fall in love again after a broken relationship. However, we can sense that the optimist in him will give it another go.
Which is your favorite Soul Album from 2012?
There were many great R and B albums released in 2012, but it is clearly not possible to list them all. Here, I give credence to some wonderful music of the year, and wish all readers a wonderful 2013 ahead.
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