Mint Condition From the Mint Factory (1993) ... Mint Condition is a funky, jazzy, soulful band. They extract genuine soul in every note. The wicked slow-jam, "So Fine" showcases all that is good about Mint Condition; searing vocals & live drums by Stokely Williams, screaming and soulful guitars by O'Dell, and guest Foley (on lead bass), and an energy that is felt as well as heard. ...Sweet, soulful harmonies carry "Swingin" - while the infectious "Good for Your Heart" percolates with Caribbean rhythms on top of 90's funk. "My High/Fidelity" is straight rock and roll with a funk break that would make the JBs proud. ..."Always" - showcases the vocal work of Stokely who can sometimes make you think of Al Jarreau with a bad, bad, band. Other times, Stokely sounds like Charlie Wilson. The point is - he always sounds good.
Chuckii Booker "Niice-N-Wiild" (1992) ...So many people slept on this one. Chuckii served up the funkiest project of the nineties with Niice N Wiild. This multitalented musician/vocalist came with a well thought-out album. The theme of the CD - despite what the title hints - is that, love heals. The healing power of love in a sexual sense certainly has been explored by Marvin Gaye, Prince and others - but Chuckii's love offers a sincerity that portrays a shy man's thoughts and fantasies of his one true love. Problem is, being the shy guy - - she doesn't know how he feels. "You Don't Know" tells that story. "With all My Heart" is a mid-tempo sizzler with Chuckii reminding, via funky walkie-talkie rap, that "Love is Medicine" - The first five tracks blend perfectly together. ..."Games" is a moody, slow, head-nodder, that flows - showing off Booker as guitar man. ..."The Soul Trilogy" - 3 ferociously funky tracks that run together pay homage to The JBs - proving that today's "cats" can get loose without a 'click track'. If you like James Brown - you'll love this! ...Bass player extrordinare, Derek 'DOA' Allen is so funky on "Love is Medicine" and "Soul Trilogy" that one wonders where he got his funk from.
Eric Benet A Day in the Life (1999)
I get frustrated with the way some artists are packaged. It should always be about the music. But often it seems that is not the case. Eric Benet is one such artist. When he is teamed the right folks - Benet comes off as a relevant soul treasure. His voice is an instrument. Sappy 'colabo's' with other folks produce another story and make it necessary to defend Benet from those who think he is too cheesy. Obviously - I am in favor of the funking, jazz scatting Eric that we hear on the brilliant opening track to his sophomore LP, A Day in the Life. For "That's Just My Way" Ali-Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest joined Spanky and Benet in the co-writing of the song produced by the Ummah (Ali-Shaheed Mohammed).
A cover of Toto's Georgy Porgy with Faith Evans is poppy but solid as track #2. "Spend My Life with You" with Tamia is a great tune but honestly in hindsight I prefer the remixed version with Terry Ellis? (or is it Terry Dexter?). "Something Real" is wack to me. I think Eric is better than this. Ditto "Loving Your Best Friend". On the two aforementioned songs - Benet is teamed with Something for the People, and Wyclef Jean. Genius is found on track six. "When You Think of Me" with Roy Ayers is a modern soul classic. Written by Benet, James Poyser, and Vikter Duplaix the song features an Ayers solo that is wicked. "Lamentation" is another great tune but I always felt like the version on the cd lacks depth. It sounds way 'demoish'. Too bad because I heard Benet perform this song before the release of the CD - and it was incredibly full of deep harmony live. Lamentation was also written by the trio of Benet, Ali-Shaheed Muhammad, and Spanky. …A cover of Kansas' Dust in the Wind has great vocals with Brian Morgan (of Cache fame) producing. But I needed to hear a real bass and guitar here. Track Nine is a favorite. "Why You Follow Me?" - I thought this song should have been a single from this album. Contagious hook and salsa flavor spice up the CD. Guess who wrote it? Again the trio of Benet, Ali-Shaheed Muhammad, and Spanky. Come As You Are is a complex ballad crying out for live drums. Track Eleven stands out as one of the best. "Love the Hurt Away" captures the Benet I would be marketing were I representing him (I may as well be - I hype him so much). Written and produced by Benet, George Nash Jr., and Demonte' Posey, the ballad showcases Benet's soul rich falsetto. I love MeShell NedegeoCello but I didn't feel "Ghetto Girl" at all. The CD closes with "Love of My Own" which I dig lots. Benet writes this one with Poyser, and Duplaix (who is a DJ and artist in his own right). To summarize - Eric Benet is a voice to not be missed. He also has consistently come up with vocal arrangements that are refreshing, jazzy, and rich all at the same time. I would love to hear more of Eric Benet with Posey, Spanky, Ayers, and Nash. I can imagine some cool collaboration with folks equal to his talent - like - Goapele, Raphael Saadiq, and Prince.
Raphael Saadiq "Instant Vintage" (2002) Honest and unconventional, Raphael Saddiq's first solo album is indeed the most listened to set by for me by any artist in recent years. The smartly mixed "Doing What I Can" kicks off a 19-track effort by the vital cog in Tony! Toni! Tone!. There is no shame in Saddiq's game and his lyrical truthfulness concerning the male ego is beautiful in its simplicity. "Body Parts" is an R&B thumper with chilled out strings that will remind of Slave's late 70's masterworks. The infectious groove leashed by Saddiq's bassline(s) is like a slice of thick and rich pecan pie. Known to his friends as Ray, "Still Ray" is a clever nod to Dr. Dre's "Still DRE" that features a tuba. "Excuse Me" is an outstanding duet with Angie Stone. But the best duet pits Saadiq with T-Boz of TLC. "Different Times" is a Gospeldelic tune that drips with soulful sincerity.
"I closed my eyes and and keep on pushin. I just stopped looking and guess who showed up?"
"I take no credit for the blessings he has given to me. I know without him that Saadiq could never ever ever be."
"Be Here" features D'Angelo and was selected as a single. It did well with urban audiences but so much of Saddiq's album offered stronger songs. Saadiq is a gifted bass guitar player with a soulful voice that is more about inflection and feeling than holding notes. "Tick-Tock", I thought, was the SONG that would push Saadiq into a household name. The song was not released as a single though. The bluesy slow jam builds to a climax with Raphael resigned to wait "1,000 years" for his lover to come back home. It's Al Greenish. "Faithful" is a funky R&B number that sounds like DJ Quik, Claire Fischer, Stevie Wonder, and Raphael were in a room together. "Uptown" is about living in Oakland, CA. and then moving away from the street drama that accompanies the inner-city. Guest musicians include some of our favorites; Jubu, Timothy Christian-Riley, and Spanky. CO-Production was done by Jake and the Phatman, and some tracks by Hi-Tek.
Eric Benet "True to Myself" (1996) ... Eric Benet. Erc Benet's debut solo album, "True to Myself", is our favorite of the last seven years by any artist. Milwaukee's Benet is a soulful jazzy vocalist that centers his powerful yet smooth voice in arrangements that recall the complexities of the great Leon Sylvers III. The music is decidedly gospel, soul, blues, and funk. The album opens with the title track; a liberating tune written by Benet and his cousin George Nash Jr. The Sly Stone classic, If You Want Me to Stay, is incredibly funky. Produced by the late, Roger Troutman (Zapp), this unrelenting bass thumper leaves your upper lip crooked. Benet, Nash and Demonte' combine their writing, and production abilities on "Let's Stay Together". Again vocals dominate as Benet is lead and background, multitracked to show off his perfect pitch. Laced with many songs that to me are the benchmark for songwriting in this era, this CD will make you groove, move, and feel the entire way. "Femininity", and "Spiritual Thing" will stand the test of time. The bass playing credit on Femininity is given to Skeeta, and Rio. It is perfect. ...You might cry during "While You Were Here". The song tells the story of Eric's sudden single parenthood. His girlfriend and mother of his child Tami Marie Stauff, was killed in an auto accident. The song is sung to Tami, assuring her that Eric will care for their 15 month old child India. ...Spiritual Thing follows, bringing some much needed good vibes. This single received some airplay but not as much as it deserves. Whoever you play this song for will dig it. The trio of Benet, Nash, and Demonte' has something special together, no doubt.
Before the gift of clarity.
We pay the price of misery.
Why? Please tell me why?
The album does fall off a bit following Spiritual Thing, but a strong rebound occurs on What if We Was Cool? Bottom line; you cannot go wrong with Eric Benet. Even on subsequent albums where Warner Brothers teamed him with a lesser producers, Eric Benet's talent carries the deal.