D’ANGELO: The Best So Far… (Label: Virgin,EMI)

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D'ANGELO: The Best So Far...

Most soul commentators make obvious connections between D’Angelo and Maxwell, and I have no objections with that. Both made their breakthroughs in the mid 90s with a sound that took soul off in new directions. Both singers espoused a languid, laconic, highly-charged style and it’s fair to say, I think, that there was more than a whiff of mystery – even threat – about both of them. Sadly, though, neither D’Angelo nor Maxwell have made any significant progress since their acclaimed debuts. True, follow-up albums were critically lauded but listen again to stuff like ‘Embyra’ and ‘Voodoo’ and they sound more self-indulgent and less focused than ‘Urban Hang Suite’ and ‘Brown Sugar’. Equally, nether artist – for whatever reason – has show any predilection to be prolific. They always seem, or so their publicists say, to be getting their latest projects “together”. In the absence of new material Virgin/EMI have put out this ‘Best Of…’ on Mr. Archer and, let’s face it, with not a lot to work on the compilers have done a great job to tempt fans into making that all-important purchase. You see, it’s obvious, but D’Angelo fans will clearly already have ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Voodoo’ and with 9 of the cuts coming from those two LPs there needed to be something a little extra. Those extras come with lots of odd cuts that were featured on soundtracks along with one live recording – and a track that originally appeared on another artist’s album… that one, by the way, is Raphael Saadiq’s ‘Be Here’. It originally appeared on his 2002 ‘Instant Vintage’ album and shows how the whole Maxwell/D’Angelo thing had influenced the ex Toni’s man… he became a disciple of the sound and this collection is a wonderful definition of that sound. It’s the best of neo-soul (or whatever name you pin on the sound D’Angelo pioneered). Lazy and languid with a strong sexual undertow, it’s best illustrated by ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ (with that man Saadiq, again) and, of course, the ground breaking ‘Brown Sugar’. There’s also the man’s duet with Erykah Badu on Marvin and Tammi’s ‘Your Precious Love’ – originally on a now hard-to-find Gaye tribute set – and, my favourite, the cover of Smokey’s ‘Cruisin”. That one , of course, featured on ‘Brown Sugar’ and it’s a great version – but it also shows a tremendous confidence… a lack of fear to take on a classic on what was to be your debut. It’s a pity that that huge confidence, even arrogance, hasn’t been more productive of late. The album, by the way, also comes with a DVD featuring 7 videos.
(BB) 4/5