The Best R&B of 2009

by Tyler Lewis and Christian John Wikane

16 December 2009


5 - 1


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Russell Taylor


US: 18 Aug 2009
UK: Import


New York City is a veritable petri dish for independent soul. Every night of the week, there is something going in one of the five boroughs that is taking soul to higher plateaus. You’re likely to see the next big thing or a current attraction at venues like Solomon’s Porch (Brooklyn), Shrine (Harlem), and the Blue Note (the Village). Of the artists who’ve toured this circuit, Russell Taylor is among the more notable figures. His second release, Confessional, establishes him as one of the few artists from the indie scene on par with, if not more appealing than, the major players of R&B. The southern-bred, London-schooled Taylor knows the way an album should hook immediately, sustain attention, and stir in a few surprises along the way. The sweeping, gorgeous “Way I Feel” showcases the strident tones of Taylor’s tenor, while “Hands 2 Myself” and “The Way It Is” give him some big beats to work around. Highlights abound across the 11 tracks, especially the marching-drum motif of “Fair Game” and the smoldering, rock-tinged “Let Me Love U”. If listeners are lucky, the latter just might be a harbinger of things to come from Russell Taylor. This is one soul who is fiercely independent. Christian John Wikane



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Chrisette Michele


(Island Def Jam)
US: 31 Mar 2009
UK: 13 Jul 2009

Review [14.Oct.2009]


Chrisette Michele is in the grand tradition of Mica Paris, Lalah Hathaway, and Trina Broussard—singular vocalists that record companies are never quite sure what to do with. The lead singles for Michele’s sophomore album, Epiphany, written by Ne-Yo, were designed to give Michele a trendy gleam, but all anyone wanted to hear was “Blame It On Me”, a bluesy jam Michele wrote that was only released to radio. Ironic, no?  Yet Epiphany works anyway. Michele elevates every song here (though it’s important to note that this is the best work Ne-Yo has ever done for another artist; he clearly loves her voice) and gives us three of her own masterpieces – “Fragile”, “Mr. Right”, and the aforementioned “Blame It On Me”. Tyler Lewis 



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Turn Me Loose

(Verve Forecast)
US: 18 Aug 2009
UK: 1 Mar 2010

Review [16.Sep.2009]


Put Ledisi anywhere, with anyone, and she’ll flourish. That is the thrust of Turn Me Loose, the shimmering follow up to her Verve Forecast debut, Lost and Found (2007). Unlike its predecessor, Turn Me Loose matches Ledisi with eight different sets of producers and turns her impressive set of pipes loose in a number of musical contexts. Collaborating and co-writing with masters of soul like Rex Rideout, Raphael Saadiq, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Ledisi has delivered a perfect album. Turn Me Loose boasts an embarrassment of riches in its musical breadth and depth. It is as likely to be enjoyed in 2019 as 2009. For a dip into the sublime, start with “Love Never Changes”. Saadiq flaunts his multi-instrumentalist muscle by playing bass, guitar, drums, and organ, keeping the groove steady and smooth like a slow-floating riverboat as Ledisi testifies about love’s durability, even as life keeps changing. The Fyre Dept. (Adam Deitch and Eric Krasnow) keep the cylinders hot on “Knockin’”, while Carvin Haggins and Ivan Barias render Ledisi’s voice a hypnotizing force on “I Need Love” over their space-age arrangement. By the time Ledisi launches full-throttle into a cover of “Them Changes” by Buddy Miles, you know there is nothing this commanding soulstress cannot do. “Go ‘head and do you / ‘Cause I’mma do me”, she proclaims on “Trippin’”. Go ahead Ledisi, keep doing and being you. Christian John Wikane



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Chico DeBarge


(Kedar Entertainment Group)
US: 14 Jul 2009
UK: 21 Sep 2009

Review [18.Aug.2009]


Addiction is a revelation from first note to last, a beautiful reintroduction to one of the best contemporary soul artists in the game. Like Maxwell, DeBarge hadn’t released an album in a while and he came back with a renewed focus, a greater sense of self, and a nearly flawless batch of songs. DeBarge has done what a million artists have done before him—turned his trials and tribulations into great art. But what’s surprising is that beneath the surface of the youngest member of an R&B and soul music dynasty is a jazzman. One need only listen to the album’s centerpiece, “Slick (Addiction)”, to hear the direction that Chico will hopefully head next. Tyler Lewis 



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US: 7 Jul 2009
UK: 6 Jul 2009


Maxwell is a magician. He left the spotlight for eight long years, cut off his hair, and returned with an album that is nothing like what made him a star—and everyone still loves him. I bet lots of stars would like to take that kind of break and still have a career when they come back. The thing is, BLACKsummers’night is the best work of Maxwell’s career. Listening to it, you know that Maxwell has been out living his life. He brings a jazzman’s infectious sense of play with him and, in the process, strips away all that he thinks we think Maxwell is supposed to be. The last time a great black artist did this, Miles Davis gave us In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1969). One hopes that the next two albums in his proposed trilogy are as inspired and as thrilling. Tyler Lewis


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