1968 feat RASHEED ALI ; Out Of Darkness (Digital Rain Factory)

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Over the last eight or nine years US music multi tasker RASHEED ALI has established a reputation as one of the most uncompromising, intriguing  and provocative artists on the contemporary soul scene. That  status has been secured via a series of albums delivered by his sonic alter ego, 1968 – a  “band” that’s not really a band; essentially it’s Rasheed (an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and vocalist) and his nephew Emile Martinez who handles the horn parts . By the way Rasheed chose 1968 as the name for his  “band”  because that was the year “when young people woke up the world” and through his 1968 music our man hopes to challenge lethargy and complacency, to promote some kind of action and to foster respect and love within communities great and small.

To that end, there have been six 1968 albums, the last one being 2021’s ‘Hindsight Is 20/20’. That  sextet delivered a hard hitting sound that melded a contemporary vibe with classic soul sounds – the sounds of people Curtis Mayfield, Norman Whitfield and Sly Stone though as the series evolved the soundscape (in places) became a little mellower – a little jazzier with a garnish of funk – think maybe Gil Scott-Heron. the Mizells and Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds. Maybe 1968’s sound was slowly changing but the messages in the music remained the same – civil rights issues, roots, heritage and the role/concept of women in society, through we did also get to enjoy some old school romance.

Now with no fanfare or fuss, Rasheed has released this new 1968 long player and ‘Out Of Darkness’ fits snugly into the “band’s” catalogue – the music is as beguiling and as hard hitting  as ever and there are messages-a-plenty to reflect on, though there’s possibly a higher romantic quotient.  

The album is a generous 18 tracker so cherry picking tracks is a tough task but 1968 long players aren’t meant to be dissected. The albums are meant to be digested whole – as one concept, rather than a collection of unconnected tunes. That said here’s a few cuts that grabbed our attention right away and in some way sum up the art and craft of Rasheed Ali. First up  there’s ‘Mother, Mother’ where the initial reference point has to be ‘What’s Going On’ – but as the track develops it takes on a  whole new life. The brassy ‘Don’t It Make You Feel Good’ is a subtle suggestion that  helping people actually helps the helper – makes them feel good about themselves. ‘I Would Never Complain’ is a superficially light, Latin groove which despite the lightness delivers while ‘You’re Safe With Me’ begins with a Covid reference before the protagonist bravely suggests that his significant other is safe with him.

The album’s title track is an insistent  crisp beater about finding yourself – walking out of darkness into the light. Rasheed tells us that ‘Out Of Darkness’ was  actually a title of a song he recorded and released on Atlantic way back. Produced by Billy Cobham, no less, it did nothing but Rasheed felt it was a good idea to write another song with the same title and to use that title  for the new album. The inference is that he’s paid his  dues but now he’s in control of his own narrative.

Rasheed also tells us that this album is the end of his 1968 project. He’s now going to concentrate on playing jazz with his Rain People project and, ambitiously, he’s thinking of writing a symphony and also releasing reggae music. Oh, and we haven’t mentioned that our man also has a novel out, ‘1968 Soul Power’. Written during the pandemic, he tells us that he’s more excited about the book than this new album! Don’t let that put you off. Rasheed’s ‘Out Of Darkness’ album offers plenty – energized music, food for thought and a  lot, lot more! Out now

(BB) 4/5